Thursday, November 12, 2009

Matsuri is a Festival of a Restaurant

One of my favorite Japanese restaurants in New York City is Matsuri, which is located in the Maritime Hotel on 16th Street and 9th Avenue. Matsuri means "festival" in Japanese, and this restaurant is a festival of Japanese cuisine. I love sushi, but I always argue that sushi is not the be-all, end-all when it comes to dishes from Japan. But it is simply marvelous at Matsuri. The sushi here is always fresh and succulent. A host of excellent appetizers such as mushrooms cooked in paper and agedashi tofu (pictured below) round out a delicious meal.

The mushroom dish is in the background. I assume the paper is washi, but I can't say for sure. What I can say is that this is an excellent appetizer. Who knew mushrooms could be so flavorful? Agedashi tofu is fried tofu soaked in a broth of dashi (the basic staple of Japanese cooking), mirin (a rice wine also frequently used in cooking Japanese dishes), and soy sauce and topped with negi (Japanese green onions). The eggplant adorning the tofu was as tender and perfectly seasoned as it gets.

We also had an order of tsukune, which is chicken meatballs on skewers grilled in the style of yakitori chicken. The tsukune at Matsuri seemed to have a different sauce from other places, or perhaps it was the same sauce but thicker.

As always, the beverages were flowing. Above are beer (Asahi, of course), water and sake.

The decor is a feast for the eyes. It's a trendy but tasteful blend of traditional Japan in a contemporary setting. Spacious yet cozy, the dark lighting and furniture provide a relaxed atmosphere.

We could see the sushi bar from our table. I wonder if the guy on the left is executive chef Tadashi Ono. I've mentioned him in previous posts. He's the co-author, along with Harris Salat, of Japanese Hot Pots. I'm systematically trying all of the recipes in the book. A few weeks ago, the beef sukiyaki was a wild success, and last weekend's mushroom hot pot was also scrumptious. I'll have a blog post about that soon.

Here's a view of the massive lanterns hanging from Matsuri's ceiling. Aside from the dark wood, it might be my favorite part of the decor.

Even though the restaurant is dark, there is plenty of mood lighting. The best time to go is later in the evening when not many customers are there. We felt as if we had the entire place to ourselves.

This room is near the bar at the entrance upstairs. We've actually never sat there, but it looks nice and a little more private than the community bench that runs through the center of the main dining room.

I love the cushioned stools. All of the little details make Matsuri a festival of traditional yet modern space and traditional yet modern food.

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