One of New York’s best.
”I am thrilled to bring truly authentic, refined Japanese dishes to this great city in a warm, chic setting.” said Jean-Georges Vongerichten on his blog when Matsugen opened its doors in June 2008. This means that Vongerichten, the Don Mega of a restaurant empire, will not work the kitchen. Instead he has left the cooking to the Matsushita brothers of Tokyo. That was probably a wise move. Matsugen’s reason to be is not to explore a new concept, nor is it a mash-up of different styles. On the contrary there’s not much on the 50-dish menu that really stands out. You know it all: Sushi, sashimi, homemade tofu, tempura, handmade noodles and grilled meat. The key to why Matsugen made it onto the TimeOut list “Best Restaurants in NYC” is that they prepare it with such attention to detail. It’s the ordinary made to perfection.
If you ever went to 66, entering Matsugen will feel familiar…
While 66 was a Chinese eatery with white-washed walls and steel and glass and little else, somebody decided that Matsugen should be a warmer, more intimate place. They kept the main layout of the restaurant and the big fishtank that separates the kitchen from the dining room. The long communal table is placed approximately where the long communal table of 66 used to be. It’s familiar but more cozy. The staff is also way better at Matsugen. I particularly remember the water-boy at 66, being very persistent in keeping the glasses filled – it was like being constantly shadowed by a mime artist armed with a water jug.
One word for you: Omakase!
That’s what you will order if you’d like leave it in the hands of the Matsushita brothers. It’s something that I gladly recommend. The eight-course menu is a culinary tour-de-force Japan style and provided you can set aside three hours for the meal, you’ll be very, very happy.
Fried soba, an appetizer sampler with sashimi and sea urchin, foie gras, more sashimi, a shrimp roll to die for, inaka soba, truffle and mushroom kamameshi and finally a vanilla caramel pudding. Phew! The kitchen does a superb job throughout the entire meal. More confusing is the fact that we are being served by at least half a dozen waiters. It is probably boosting efficiency but it certainly makes the experience less personal. But make no mistake; Matsugen delivers. The staff is highly competent and the different servings dissolve quickly.
Maybe it’s not that normal after all.
Some reviewers claim that Vongerichtens has made a brave and bold move with Matsugen. They claim that the concept could have been more approachable. I guess that would go for American palates. The day when soba is exotic I’ll agree with them. In my opinion Matsugen has a very straightforward and honest approach to everything Japanese. With ingredients delivered daily from the Tsukiji fish market and the Matsushita brothers working their magic, In fact I find it almost entirely free from gimmicks, which may cause some problems. What to say when people ask about Matsugen? I’d just say “It’s very good!” No, it’s not a very special answer but I hope it works anyway.
UPDATE: Matsugen closed permanently after service on March the 5th 2011. NY.Eater.com wrote “The restaurant, which earned three stars from Frank Bruni and was panned by Platt shortly after it opened in early 2008, was a favorite with New York chefs but was for the most part underpopulated.”
It was also communicated to the press that the restaurant closed because Jean-George’s contract with the Matsushita brothers was up and also most of their Japanese based chefs’ visas are going to expire. If those were the sole reasons… no, I don’t think so.
241 Church Street
New York, NY, 10013
Tell your cabbie: 241 Church Street between Leonard and Worth Streets
Noon – 3:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
5:30 p.m. to midnight Sunday + Tuesday through Thursday
5:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Friday + Saturday.