Last night we had tickets to see a show at the Highline Ballroom and wanted to eat somewhere near the show. Matsuri is a block away so we were hoping to get a seat at the bar. A seat wasn't a problem. We could have taken over the entire bar by ourselves.
When Matsuri first opened, the place was impossible to get into. They definitely poured a serious amount of cash into the place. The bar rests above the open room that has large Japanese lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Even the walls down the hallway to the bathroom are covered with intricate wood patterns. Lots of thought was made into every architectural decision. The sinks in the bathroom are even brilliant. A large deep sink with 3 separate controls completely temperature controlled.
Keep in mind that when Matsuri opened, the food was excellent. The small tasting plates were the key. One was better than the next. The Lotus Root was a definite MO (Mouth orgasm) dish. So, what happened?
We ordered a few small plates to begin starting with a bowl of the lotus root. The lotus root was thick and mealy. Nothing like the good old days. This dish used to consist of thinly sliced lotus root that had been braised in a spicy sauce covered with sesame seeds. It was addictive. I'd usually order another bowl. The good news is that I have the recipe so I can fill my yearning for lotus root at home. We also had crab meat shumai which was anything from light. A heavy duty dumpling that was tasteless more like a small hockey puck. Our other dish was one of my favorites, roasted eggplant with miso. The eggplant had definitely been roasted but the miso paste was so thick that there was absolutely no nuance to the dish. It was like someone had taken the miso out of the refrigerator, brought it to room temperature and just took a knife and slathered it on the eggplant. The other small dish we had was soft shell crab tempura. Not crisp, almost hard to cut because more than likely they had rewarmed the tempera from earlier which made is soft and tasteless. Absolutely disappointing.
Matsuri also does sushi which they still do quite well. The fish is cut right, it is flavorful as well as ridiculously overpriced. Certainly if you have a good place where you are buying the fish, which I am sure hasn't changed since the beginning, it is harder to screw up. No omigods but good.
Although the bar was completely vacant, the restaurant was probably 1/3 filled. It is kind of depressing to see a restaurant take such a dive. If they could have kept up the food, my guess is they would still be humming. Alas. I wonder how much longer Matsuri will last.