I made plans with Giulia several weeks ago to have lunch during Restaurant Week. I’m itching to try out new restaurants rather than my safe and dependable restaurants during this time of the year (e.g. Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park), so I proposed Matsugen. I heard generally good to very good reviews around the web so I thought this place wouldn’t let me down.
Arriving around 12:30, I waited in their lounge section of the restaurant while Giulia was driving into the city. The decor is understated, refined yet trendy enough for the hip neighborhood of TriBeca. Upbeat music playing softly in the background, a bit unexpected for an Asian themed restaurant but it’s fine by me.
As the hostess escorted to our table I’ve noticed, strangely, that the dining area is partitioned into three small sections rather than one relatively large dining space. Perhaps it’s meant to feel more intimate?
Anyway, when Giulia and I were perusing the menu, I was hoping that they would actually serve their “Winter Promotion” lunch bento box menu that’s currently online, which reads the following: Green Salad with Soy Sauce, Homemade Soft Tofu, Goma-dare Soba, and Black Cod Miso for $24. However, the actual Restaurant Week prix fixe (I forgot to take a photo; a rare thing but it did happen) of $24 read: Green Salad, Mushroom broth with soba, Grilled Fish (which turned out to be salmon, observing from neighboring tables), and vanilla pudding. If you asked me, it sounded very depressing that I even asked the waitress if I could substitute the entree?
Since this was obviously rejected, I worked around Giulia’s budget and gauged how hungry we were (which was not very) and here’s what I came up with picking from their a la carte menu:
We started with the Bakudan, a bowl filled with an assortment of raw or barely cooked seafood (scallops, calamari tentacles, salmon roe, uni, and shrimp) and natto beans with a side of nori sheets. What stood out from most of the appetizers that were on the a la carte menu were the natto beans and uni. I love uni’s silky texture and how it tastes like the briny sea. As for natto, I never had it before. When I tried, it tasted a tad salty like soy sauce (it is fermented soybean, ya know?) but then the flavor changed to coffee. It was weird yet I liked it a lot. Texturally speaking, it’s still soft and creamy like any typical bean one would eat. Mixing the barely poached egg yolk with all of the ingredients and eating it with the nori, this was interesting to eat. The nori gives it the salty, briny flavor with some crispness, the bakudan mixture is chewy, silky and the natto’s coffee flavor that lingers on the palate.
Progressing onto the mains, I’ve ordered black cod with miso and cold soba with Kamoseiro duck soup. The black cod was simply amazing. It’s perfectly cooked, moist, and the fish is fluffy. The sauce that’s coated the cod was sweet and salty. I wouldn’t have mind eating several orders of this dish.
The cold soba with Kamoseiro duck soup was a pretty generous portion of cold soba noodles that’s served with a small bowl of salty, flavorful duck broth. This particular dish is comfort food for me in the winter – a hot bowl of soup and noodles, hence the reason why I ordered it. The plus was, there’s four slices of meaty, tender (with a touch of fat) duck in there absorbing salty flavors in the warm soup. How we’re supposed to eat it, as the server told us, we take the soba noodles and drop it in the hot bowl of soup to be warmed and eat it. The cool, red kettle was given to us when we’re almost done (see pictured above); it’s meant to dilute the salty broth and it warms it up so we can drink it.
This was very good and Giulia and I were satiated by the time we’re done with our meal. I didn’t bother with dessert since I’m running late and she has to go to another engagement.
Would I go to Matsugen in the near future? Yes, but wouldn’t bother with their Restaurant Week menu. I do hope they’ll switch back to the aforementioned “Winter Promotion” menu soon since I heard really good things about their soft tofu (and I do love my tofu) and the goma-dare soba, then I’ll think about coming back.