When I first moved to New York as a fresh grad, all bright-eyed and dirt poor, I saved my pennies for pretty shoes and sushi takeout. I would read through my Zagat as religiously as my Vogue and Glamour, and file away dream meals at Per Se and Masa alongside dream shoes by Louboutin and Manolo. I never would have thought that one day I’d be eating a meal personally prepared and handed to me by Masa himself. (I’m still waiting for Monsieur Louboutin to call me about those custom heels, but you know, one dream at a time). The 150-seat Las Vegas outpost of Bar Masa, inside the ARIA Resort & Casino, is much larger than the Bar Masa in New York. And it is, of course, done up in high Vegas fashion with soaring, 36-foot, airplane hangar-esque ceilings and curvy red leather banquets. The food? Extravagant to be sure, but not in a haphazard hedonistic way. No, this meal at Bar Masa was elegant and poised and gracious, possessing a poetic lightness of being to it.
ADDRESS Bar Masa
Aria Resort & Casino
3744 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89158
Our first course was Kegani (Hairy Crab) Sunomono paired with 2010 Woollaston Sauvignon Blanc from Nelson, New Zealand. Kegani is also known as hairy crab. Su means vinegar in Japanese, so sunomono refers to a variety of vegetable and/or seafood dishes seasoned with vinegar-based dressings. This dish featured big chunks of sweet crab meat over lightly pickled strands of cucumber, with a rich crab-miso paste on top and a scattering of Chrysanthemum petals. If the fresh and tart crab salad served to whet our appetite, this next dish successfully signaled the official start to a good time. Toro and Caviar? Two buzzwords in any gourmand’s vocabulary. The Toro Tartare with Caviar was paired with Lucien Albrecht Cremant de Alsace. I tried to be demure and ladylike as I piled my toasted brioche high with exquisite, rich, fatty, pink tuna belly and fine caviar that filled my mouth with little droplets of salty sea. Next, came a work of art. Nestled inside a weighty block of etched stone, cold to the touch, was a silky ribbon of kawahagi sashimi (a white fish also known as Trigger fish or Filefish) adorned with a finely julienned matchstick bundle of fragrant white truffle and glimmering bits of gold leaf. Inspired from a moment in time when Masa was smoking a cigar, admiring the falling autumn leaves in Japan, this dish is crafted to resemble leaves falling from a tree. The stoneware was designed by Masa himself. (I know, I love this guy more by the moment). The Kawahagi with White Truffle was paired with Matsunoi Tokubetsu Junmai Sake from Niigata. Our meat course for the evening was Chicken Yakitori and Wagyu Beef Skewers paired with 2006 Paul Dolan Pinot Noir from Mendocino County. The chicken was marinated in a teriyaki sauce before hitting the grill with some green onion. The Australian A9 wagyu was buttery and tender, and had a surprising kick to it – it had been rubbed with a bit of yuzu kosho, a citrus spice made of yuzu zest, chili peppers, and salt. A salad of Lobster Sashimi and Cucumber, paired with 2008 Olivier Leflaive, Les Setilles, Bourgogne Blanc, lightened things up again. The lobster sashimi had an interesting snappy crunch to it. While a few of my dining companions found the texture challenging, I didn’t mind. The flavor was pretty mild but sweet. The lobster and cucumber salad was garnished with chives and tempura flakes, and finished with a white soy vinaigrette. A signature dish at Bar Masa, the Uni Risotto with White Truffle, paired with 2009 Scarbolo, Ramato XL, Pinot Grigio from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy, was sublime. Uni (sea urchin roe) is another one of those pleasure buzzwords. I’ve had uni dishes before where they skimp on the prized ingredient. Not here. Our server proudly told us, this risotto was 90% uni. I almost forgot my manners and gave him a fist bump. This was the winner of the night. Made with sushi rice instead of the traditional Arborio rice, a touch of vinegar and sugar, maitake mushrooms to add some body, a money-is-no-object portion of creamy, grade A uni (or, what I like to call, foie of the sea), oh yeah, and a fatty crown of white truffle shavings -- this risotto was pure luxury in a bowl. Unabashed decadence. Boss. Our meal ended with a cleansing Grilled Matsutake Mushroom Soup, served with a slice of sudachi, a tart citrus fruit similar to a lime. The austere soup smelled like wet earth, in a good way. As if this was the chef’s gentle way of grounding us, bringing us back to earth after heavenly flights of uni, truffle, wagyu, toro, and caviar.