Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Introducing MASU of Auckland, New Zealand

After doing some research, I decided on two of the most fancy dining establishments in Auckland based on cursory reviews (and the simple fact that these restaurants had four “dollar signs” as opposed to two or three, which suggested to me that perhaps expensive equaled qualitative). These restaurants were MASU and Cocoro, the first of which is located near SkyCity Tower right next to The Grand Hotel on the fine dining row known as Federal Street. Could it have been more obvious that this one might be positively indulgent?

I was on a high, and I mean a high!—as the servers greeted me just as servers would greet you in a posh place named MASU Japanese Robata Restaurant and Bar by Executive Chef Nic Watt, which boasts a stellar list of awards and menus with heaps of extraordinary choices littered with the likes of black cod and Japanese Black Wagyu Beef, ingredients exotically named coriander (known merely as cilantro in California), silken tofu, and even honey (which is quite a common ingredient in New Zealand).

Ever longing for the best view of the action, I sat at the sushi bar and just enjoyed watching as chefs, male and female, lay yellow takuan and spears of chives in rolls they have started preparing. One chef makes dual use of white daikon radish—tightly rolling sheets of the daikon and standing them up like stalks, ready to use them as the wrap they put around my Age Watari Gani, or Fried Soft-shell Crab Roll, which they filled with chives, cucumbers and yuzu kosho mayonnaise; or shredding the daikon into a garnish to be used for sashimi dishes, all of it done with precision using one hell of a sharp knife.

The white daikon wrap around a Soft-shell Crab Roll is reminiscent of Nobu’s style, but not even Nobu applies takuan, also known as oshinko, inside his version of this roll. (Though I’ve never seen it used in a soft-shell crab roll, the pickled yellow radish surprisingly enhances the flavor of the crispy crustacean.)

I order more maki, for I am ravenous! And the Crispy Prawn with avocado, sweet soy, and takuan for NZ $12.60 (Americans currently pay about 75 cents to their dollar) sounds appealing. The Spicy Tuna Roll with jalapeno mayonnaise, avocado and chives for NZ $16.90 also did not disappoint.

Then from the Robata Grill, I chose the ultimate—the Alaskan King Crab Leg with smoked wasabi lime butter for NZ $32. The gigantic crab leg that was presented to me in a V-formation was split and piled to the hilt with chunks of fleshy white and pink crab meat, topped with a burnt-orange creamy sauce that wasn’t redolent of wasabi at all, but rather a tangy, aromatic mayonnaise, with portions burnt to a crisp, the side of minty green salad lending an acrid contrast to the heavy sweet crab. They divulge a secret—that the crab meat is actually derived from various crab legs, then piled back into the shell in fluffy formation—though that should’ve been obvious to me, given the easy manner in which the meat lifted from the shell. There was no scraping, no digging, no work, as is usually involved in hollowing out crab legs. This is because sometimes one crab leg may be less meaty than another, the waiter explained, and they do their best to create a sense of uniformity in all their servings.

Just like in Australia, for some reason yellowtail in New Zealand is also often referred to as kingfish. Thinly sliced kingfish was served in my final last dish here at MASU—Kingfish Sashimi Salad with Yuzu Truffle Dressing, the fish so diaphanous that the pieces are translucent and rip with a mere prod of my chopsticks. This dish came with a bed of refreshing greens that tasted like they were straight out of a Vietnamese restaurant (not surprising, considering Watt also opened Madame Hanoi Bar & Bistro in Australia).

The service is impeccable; my water glass was always filled to the brim from sleek decanters as I watched more chefs chop and prep and roll the night away.

Cheers,” they say in their Kiwi accents. It’s an expression of thanks that I will keep hearing in this country for the next two weeks. It’s also one of the things I don’t need to ask them to repeat just so I can understand what is being said.

90 Federal Street, Auckland, New Zealand
+64 9 363 6278

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