Japanese Dinner at Matsugen
- Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Having had sushi for dinner the previous night, I nearly gasped when my visiting sorority sister requested that we meet for Japanese.
"Y'all's sushi is just so much better here than it is in Houston," Shelby said. And though I didn't know firsthand, I could only assume she was correct.
Knowing I didn't want to restrict dinner to a restaurant solely serving sushi/rolls, I made a reservation for an early meal at Matsugen, Jean-Georges' haute Japanese noodle house.
I arrived nearly 15 minutes early for our reservation and was seated immediately (shock!), sans Shelby. After ordering myself a fruity cocktail, I studied the restaurant's ultra modern/Zen surroundings (tall ceilings, hardwood floors, onyx-colored woods, glass partitions), taking particular interest in the massive salt water tank stocked with a colorful kaleidoscope of tropical fish.
Before I knew it, the girl who I had not seen in three years arrived, carrying an aura of warmth and comfort only a Texan was capable of. After playing the "Guess who's pregnant/engaged/divorced/successful" game for nearly 20 minutes, Shelby and I were finally ready to order.
While Matsugen's menu was expansive and appealing, we decided to opt for the $38 6-course prix-fixe promotion.
Dressed in a light vinaigrette, a plate of field greens arrived topped with fresh, ample chunks of lobster meat. I was pleased and surprised that a salad containing only two main ingredients could hit all of the right sensory notes (flavor, contrasting textures, sweet vs. tangy vs. salty).
The next course to arrive was a warm bowl of miso soup topped with slices of tempura-fried tofu. While I'm generally not a fan, I did take a couple of slurps of my soup, as I knew that Matsugen's version was probably as good as it got. The scallion-laced broth was silky, smoky, and salty, and the tempura-fried tofu added a subtle crunch.
The next two dishes to arrive:
A small wooden box filled with a mountain of ice chips and topped with an assortment of sliced sashimi
A plate of perfectly fried shrimp and vegetable tempura
What appeared to be an exotic white vegetable accompanying the sashimi turned out to be a julienned slice of eel (I loathe eel). It took every ounce of will power to maintain a calm poker face and not puke while simultaneously chewing the slimy white creature. Luckily, I was able to "chase" it with a fresh wedge of ruby-red tuna sashimi, followed by some of the best tempura (greaseless, golden, and crispy) I've ever had.
Finally, it was the moment Shelby and I were waiting for: our entrée bowls of homemade soba noodles arrived.
While Shelby opted for the hot, soupy version, I chose to make my meal out of the cold Seiro noodles with Goma-Dare sesame sauce. The portion was of the perfect size, not too large and not too small. Paired with the flavorful sesame-soy concoction, the chilly noodles took a few bites to get used to, but I ultimately enjoyed what I had ordered. I know that this will make all of you "soba enthusiasts" cringe, but I'd take a bowl of chicken-flavored Top Ramen over Matsugen's any day.
Our meal ended on a sweet note with Vanilla Caramel Pudding. The "pudding" tasted and had similar consistency of the custard of a crème brulee (I'm not complaining at all), and I found the caramel to have an overpowering burnt aftertaste.
Looking back, I find it strange that what I enjoyed the most about Matsugen was not its "homemade soba noodle claim to fame," as I am a self-proclaimed carboholic. The items that I felt truly shined were:
Field greens with lobster meat
Tempura shrimp and vegetables
The sashimi (sans eel)
Matsugen's service was wonderful and the atmosphere was bustling, yet tranquil (strange as that may sound).