Tempura Matsui, NYC 2
October 4, 2016
In July of 2015 Linda and I went to Tempura Matsui two weeks after it opened. We returned for dinner on August 26, 2016. Chef Matsui died last February after a long bout with cancer, but the restaurant continues in much the same way as he had established it. The current chef, Shin Kato, worked with him for 20 years. Tempura Matsui received a star in the 2016 Michelin Guide.
We were seated near the middle of the counter with a good view of the hot oil kettle, the batter bowl and the wooden ingredient box.
We chose the Matsui Kaiseki Course. There are also larger and smaller menus and à la carte offerings. We ordered a bottle of Hakkaisan Ginjyo sake 八海山.
It was assertive, mixing elegant and dry flavors and went well with the cuisine in small sips.
The menu started with
Assortment of summer starters
The sweet corn tofu really let the fresh corn flavor shine through. The crabmeat in the bottom of a vegetable gel was very good.
The steamed minced chicken with mustard seed and celery was surprisingly interesting. The fluke sashimi less so. In the covered bowl were chunks of good tuna in a gooey sauce that I did not enjoy, but the fresh wasabi and caviar on top were nice enhancements and adding soy sauce helped.
I think that this quickly seared and sliced fish was a kind of Spanish mackerel. The vegetable garnishes were unusual and good.
Then followed the main attraction
Chef’s choice of 4 Seafoods and 4 Vegetables
The tempura setup was put in front of us. In the back were little ceramic boxes with miso salt and German rock salt. There were dipping dishes in front of each one. The lemon wedge was served in a metal squeezer. Its blue dipping dish was behind it. On the left is a larger bowl of tentsuyu or tempura dipping sauce made from dashi with mirin and soy sauce. In the lower right is a bowl of grated daikon, which one adds to the tentsuyu to give it body.
The pieces of tempura were taken one by one hot out of the oil and put on piece of paper on the raised counter in front of us. They could be eaten directly from there or moved to the small plate in the middle. As each piece was served, we were given advice on where to dip it.
We started with hot, crispy delicious shrimp heads.
Then came the two headless shrimps.
Cooked just long enough to be hot, but still firm with a good flavor.
King crab legs.
Typical, but less interesting than the cauliflower.
Abalone filled with seaweed.
Good, mild flavors of the sea.
The dipping sauce helped to bring out its flavor.
Tai wrapped in shiso leaf.
The Japanese snapper had a lovely flavor which was nicely protected from the oil by the shiso leaf.
Japanese shiïtake mushroom
Good earthy flavor.
This was not as interesting as its seafood predecessors.
Unagi, or freshwater eel, was perched atop dashi jelly and cucumber with ginger and sesame flavoring. This was as delicious as it was pretty.
Savory Steamed Egg Custard with seasonal delicacies
This was a chawanmushi with chunks of scallops and crab. The custard was quite delicate; our server warned us not to stir it or we would change the texture. Very good.
Ten-don, Ten-cha or Ten-Soba
In the spot for the traditional ending rice dish we had a choice of a Ten-don, rice with a tempura on top; or Ten-cha, rice in green tea soup with a tempura garnish; or, our choice, a new offering, Ten-Soba, homemade cold soba, buckwheat noodles, with a tempura side.
Around the tray are tsuyu dipping sauce, similar to tempura dipping sauce; a small bowl of grated daikon and wasabi to enhance the sauce; tempura and my sake glass, which held the last of our bottle.
Although the noodles are freshly made and cooked, they are served cold, which prevents their sticking. The buckwheat flour is ground in house.
Two shrimp, a shishito pepper and a maïtake mushroom.
Alongside was a covered pitcher with the warm water in which the soba was cooked. To finish the course we poured it into the dipping sauce and drank the combination as a soup.
Grapefruit jelly with mixed fruit.
Matcha green tea to finish.
We enjoyed a lovely meal. The cuisine was elegant and delicious, although some of the tempura was a bit bland. This is a criticism often made of tempura, but I think that the Japanese palate is more accustomed to appreciating these subtleties. But most of it had the clear flavors of impeccable fresh ingredients well prepared. Matsui’s very light tempura batter is a factor here. The service was always good with many explanations offered.
The larger menu, which must be ordered two days in advance, also includes a lobster tempura course. Fortunately the couple sitting next to me had ordered it and I was able to take a photo.
We will try it on our next visit.
To see our meal a year before, with chef Matsui, click here.