Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Worth it, by definition

Following soon after Vogue's enthusiastic endorsement of the $800 haircut, there is Frank Bruni's four-star review of Japanese restaurant Masa in the NYT dining section. Bruni begins his review by describing how his friend has some kind of an orgasm while eating a maki roll. He, too, found "bliss" at the restaurant, and deems the experience worth the considerable pricetag:

Masa, which reopens Jan. 11 after a holiday break, is arguably the most expensive restaurant in New York. Lunch or dinner for two can easily exceed $1,000. Justifiable? I leave that question to accountants and ethicists. Worth it? The answer depends on your budget and priorities. But in my experience, the silky, melting quality of Masa's toro and uni and sea bream, coupled with the serenity of its ambience, does not exist in New York at a lower price.

There's something wrong when editorial content in respected publications (and I'm warily placing Vogue into that category) serves only to reinforce the idea that something out of most people's reach must, by definition, be something most should desire. I have no problem with advertising, and don't mind that the Times online urges you to see "Kinsey" (which you should do anyway) or that Vogue is largely made up of clothing ads. But when writers, not advertisers, endorse the most high-end of high-end items, it often seems as if they've bought into the idea that price really does indicate quality. True, there's no point in the Times having a dining section or Vogue being a fashion magazine if they do not serve as paens to the finest dining and fashion, respectively. Yet if they reveal that the finest food is actually a doughnut or the finest fashion a pair of $40 lime-green snow boots, these publications will disappoint their readers, who want to see the inaccessible, and who want to be assured that the inaccessible really is that much better than the accessible. I have never eaten at Masa, so I cannot say if Bruni is right that the meal is worth what it costs. But what Bruni must assess, in reviewing this restaurant, isn't whether the sushi is good, but whether it's $1000 good. And unless the sushi turns out to be mediocre or worse, anyone consuming it, reviewers included, might fall victim to suggestibility and decide that, what the hell, it was probably worth it, because isn't it more fun that way?

I should also admit that I'm not a fan of the super-expensive restaurant. In my experience, the anticipation, and the overanalysis of what everyone at the table is ordering, along with the expectation that one must declare that every bite of every dish is exquisite, all combine to cancel out the actual joy of eating the meal, which frequently ends up tasting no better than a meal at a moderately-priced establishment. To put it bluntly, I do not believe that a perfect food experience can be ensured by paying a certain amount of money. Many factors affect your enjoyment of a meal--Are you in the mood for the cuisine in question? Are you, well, hungry? Are you so hungry that any food would taste delicious? Did you eat somewhere nauseating the previous night? Are you really, really craving the food you're about to eat, so much so that anything other than eating that food, right at that very moment, would be an utter disappointment? Did something especially pleasant or unpleasant happen earlier in the day? And so on. Assuming you're an omnivore, there is absolutely no way to know whether, at 7:30 tomorrow night, you'll consider the perfect dinner to be a slice of pizza or fois gras risotto. (Now, I don't see any point in saying something like, "The only real pleasure of eating is being surrounded by loved ones," since anyone who's ever eaten a steak after really craving one knows that that's not the case. But, while ecstatic food experiences are out there, even the NYT can't tell you exactly where you'll find them.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts come immediately to mind: the ethics of spending $1,000 on lunch when others in the world (and one's own country and city go hungry), and the "Emperor's clothes" syndrome which will prompt those who pay $1,000 for lunch to affirm that it is truly fabulous. I've been known to feel a bit orgasmic when contemplating and consuming a bowl of pasta or some warm crusty bread. Would it be that much better at an inflated price and served on fine china with linen napkins? I think not? --JM

dan said...

http://sushizenfollies.blogspot.com

Sushi Zen Follies

a satire of the language in Frank BRuni's inane review of Masa, and how he got taken in by Japanese sushi googbedygook. Read it and weep.

and this too:

The Anti-Plug: Masa


Sometimes I have to say “Hey New York – what the fuck?!” Masa is a restaurant that inspired that reaction from me. (More specifically, Frank Bruni’s review in today’s New York Times, in which he gave Masa four stars and informed me that it is the first sushi restaurant to receive that designation in 21 years).

Here are the details:

First, a reservation requires a credit card, and a last-minute cancellation incurs a $100 charge (the current wait is three weeks for the sushi bar).

Second, you dine in a windowless room.

Third, you don’t pick what you eat. The chef-owner-namesake, Masayoshi Takayama, decides that for you.

Fourth, you pay $350 per person, not including tax, tip, and beverages. That's right: $350. According to Mr. Bruni, "Lunch or dinner for two can easily exceed $1,000."

Posted by korey on December 30, 2004 to WTF? | Comments (0)

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with American culture?

Frank Bruni's review of Masa, that's what.



a blogattack



When Frank Bruni wrote about a recent visit to a sushi shop, reported in the New York Times, I almost lost my lunch. What complete crap! How silly! A ten star example of how not to gush over something you know nothing about. And yet, the language, the language...

While most of the brouhaha over Bruni's brilliant review has been about money and cost and price (especially in view of the recent Great Asian Tsunami of 2004) -- his review came out three days after the Voltairean tragedy shook south Asia [and later New York] -- very little has been said in blogs or reviews about his utterly inane language and how he was completely swindled by Masa Japanospeak, which does not translate into Italian I guess. Frank, wake up and smell the Tsukuji Fish Market for real. You have become part of what is very very wrong with Western culture. But why have so few commentators pointed this out? Does it take a Zenman in Tokyo to do the trick? Sad. So sad.

Read my comments in CAPS below -- all in mere jest, we suggest -- to see the final analysis. Frank, get real! And readers, why have you not protested in print?

-- The Zenman in TOKYO

RESTAURANTS

Sushi at Masa Is a Zen Thing

By FRANK BRUNI

December 29, 2004 www.nytimes.com

TEXT: [annotations by The Zenamn in CAPS. All in fun, of course.!]

Bruni wrote (you call that writing, I call that writhing):

"I could reach deep into a heady broth of adjectives to describe the magic of the sushi at Masa. PLEASE DON'T, FRANK. THE WORST IS YET TO COME. I could pull up every workable synonym for delicious. PLEASE. OrI could do this: tell you about watching a friend bite into one ofMasa's toro-stuffed maki rolls. YES DO TELL US.His eyes grew instantly bigger as his lips twitched TWITCHED? into acoyly COYLY? restrained grin. Then the full taste of the toro, whichis the buttery belly of a bluefin NICE ALLITERATION, B- B- B, FRANK tuna, took visible hold. Forget restraint: OKAY WE WILL. he wassuddenly smiling as widely as a person with a mouthful of food and amodicum of manners can. NARUHODO! His eyes even rolled slightlybackward. DID THEY NOW?This play of emotion mirrored my own toro-induced bliss. BLISS NOW? Italso explains why Masa, despite its chosen peculiarities and pitilessexpense, belongs in the thinly populated pantheon of New York's moststellar restaurants. Simply put, Masa engineers discrete moments ofpure elation that few if any other restaurants can match. SIMPLY PUT,FRANK, YOU WAS HAD AND NOW YOU TRYING TO HAVE YOUR READERS TOO! If you appreciate sushi, Masa will take you to the frontier FRONTIER? REALLY NOW? of how expansively good a single (and singular) bite of it canmake you feel.PURE CLAPTRAP. COME TO TOKYO AND EAT SUSHI AT ONE OFTHOSE CONVEYOR-BELT PLACES, JUST AS GOOD, ONLY 800 YEN!

If you don't, you have no reason to visit this restaurant, which stakes its claim for the most part on a narrow patch of culinary turf. IT STAKES ITS CLAIM ON RICH DUMMIES AND TRUST FUND KIDS. The unyielding boundaries of a meal here are just one of many ways in which Masa bucks the increasingly wobbly traditions of fine dining in this city. MASA BUCKS NOTHING. IT'S A WASTE OF MONEY. BY THE WAY, FRANK, WHO PAID FOR YOUR MEAL? YOU or the TIMES? [http://www.gawker.com] chef and owner, Masayoshi Takayama, who operated Ginza Sushiko in Beverly Hills before relocating to Manhattan, does not present you with a menu or choices. You are fed what he elects to feed you, most\of it sushi, in the sequence and according to the rhythm he decrees. YES BECAUSE HE IS GOD. You do not seize control at Masa. You surrender it. YES BECAUSE YOU ARE STUPID. You pay to be putty. TRUE. And you pay dearly. SO TRUE. The price fluctuates with the season and the\availability of certain delicacies. It now stands at US$350 a person before tax, tip and sip of sake or bottled water. Masa, which reopens Jan. 11 after a holiday break, is arguably the most expensive restaurant in New York. Lunch or dinner for two can easily exceed $1,000. COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS PRICE AND PEOPLE ARE STARVING AROUND THE WORLD, FRANK!Justifiable? NO! I leave that question to accountants and ethicists. THE ANSWER IS NO. Worth it? NO. The answer depends on your budget and\priorities. But in my experience, the silky, SILKLY? NICE ORIENTAL\WORD, FRANK! melting quality of Masa\'s toro and uni and sea bream,\coupled with the serenity of its ambience, does not exist in New York\at a lower price. SMILE!\\Masa is not merely sushi. YES FOLKS IT IS MERELY SUSHI. OVER PRICED\SUSHI. GET OVER IT. The first third of a nearly three-hour meal here\entails other indulgences, presented at methodically paced intervals\and in prudently restrained portions. There may be an \'\'uni risotto\with white truffle\'\' SPEAK ENGLISH SIR!; dollops of a perilous OH\",1]
);
//-->
If you don't, you have no reason to visit this restaurant, whichstakes its claim for the most part on a narrow patch of culinary turf.IT STAKES ITS CLAIM ON RICH DUMMIES AND TRUST FUND KIDS. Theunyielding boundaries of a meal here are just one of many ways inwhich Masa bucks the increasingly wobbly traditions of fine dining inthis city.MASA BUCKS NOTHING. IT'S A WASTE OF MONEY. BY THE WAY,FRANK, WHO PAID FOR YOUR MEAL? YOU or the TIMES?The chef and owner, Masayoshi Takayama, who operated Ginza Sushiko inBeverly Hills before relocating to Manhattan, does not present youwith a menu or choices. You are fed what he elects to feed you, mostof it sushi, in the sequence and according to the rhythm he decrees.YES BECAUSE HE IS GOD. You do not seize control at Masa. You surrenderit. YES BECAUSE YOU ARE STUPID. You pay to be putty. TRUE. And you paydearly. SO TRUE. The price fluctuates with the season and theavailability of certain delicacies. It now stands at US$350 a personbefore tax, tip and sip of sake or bottled water. Masa, which reopensJan. 11 after a holiday break, is arguably the most expensiverestaurant in New York. Lunch or dinner for two can easily exceed$1,000. COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS PRICE AND PEOPLE

Anonymous said...

January 5, 2005

Letters to Editor of NYTIMES following Frank Bruni's
inane review of MASA

Don't Reward Extravagance

To the Editor:

I've never been to Masa but am quite sure that Frank
Bruni's description of the food and dining experience
was accurate in his review ("Sushi at Masa: It's a Zen
Thing," Dec. 29). However, any meal for two that "can
easily exceed $1,000" simply should not deserve four
stars. At those prices, a guest at Masa is simply
demonstrating that he has so much money he can waste
it.

I suspect that most dining at Masa is related to
business entertainment, but if I was invited as a
client to dine at Masa, my only conclusion would be
that my host has been gouging me for years.
Furthermore, I would prefer not to own stock in any
company whose corporate officers approve such an
expense. I am neither a restaurant reviewer nor an
editor, but the same judgment that permits reducing a
rating for poor acoustics or lighting should apply to
dropping a star for outrageous cost.

THOMAS R. DONAHUE
New York

A Foodie's Challenge

To the Editor:

After reading Frank Bruni's "Sushi at Masa: It's a Zen
Thing," I was struck by his comment that the answer to
whether the $1,000 price of a meal for two at Masa is
justifiable "depends on your budget and priorities."
The comment, while in tone reasonable, suggests an
attitude of jaded conspicuous consumption that moves
beyond the fatuous toward the genuinely insensible. As
a "foodie" hailing from Berkeley, who makes a yearly
visit to Chez Panisse since first enjoying a prix fixe
lamb dinner there for $4.25 in the early 70's, I am
surprised by Mr. Bruni's swallowing, both literally
and figuratively, such a preciously hyped meal. One
can hear him rather obscenely calling out, "Let them
eat sushi."

JEANETTE MELNICK
Beachwood, Ohio

Money Better Spent

To the Editor:

The paper's timing of Frank Bruni's review of Masa
was, to say the least, in poor judgment. People should
give pause on how to better spend $350: on an ornate
piece of sushi or supplies to Southeast Asia, where a
loaf of bread may save someone's life.

DARCY HELLER STERNBERG
New York