Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chef Quote of the Week: Sam Sifton

Not a chef, but one who thinks like one for a living: Sam Sifton is the New York Times food critic and restaurant reviewer.  He's in good company with a long line of other writers whose tenure typically lasts about 5 years.  They can make or break the reputations of the greatest restaurants in the greatest restaurant city in the world.  Today Sifton reviews Masa, the sushi and Japanese cuisine temple located in the Time Warner Center a few steps from another mecca of cuisine, Per Se.

The most surprising thing revealed to me in this review was the cost of a meal at Masa.  When it opened in 2004, a meal was $300 per person, not including tax, tip or anything to drink, and for awhile, it was on my list of restaurants I would like to visit.  Today, $450 is the price tag, making the cost for two who "do it right" (that is to say, drink well and tip on the whole thing) cost upwards of $1500.  For hardcore foodies, it's a price worth paying to surrender your control to the master of ceremonies, Masayoshi Takahama as he sends out course after course of whatever he feels like.  I've friends who forewent a honeymoon to eat here.  So, Sifton explains what happens when psychologically you expect the absolute best (as in four stars), and don't consistently get it.

"New York City now demands of its four-star restaurants an understanding that culture at its highest must never feel transactional, whatever its cost. We ascend to these heavens for total respite from the world below, for extraordinary service and luxuriant atmosphere as much as for the quality of the food prepared."  Sam Sifton

Photo courtesy of New York Restaurant Insider
Sifton has nailed a very important idiom here:  as we move into the economic unknown of tomorrow, we will constantly adjust our standards of fine dining based on what's happening today.  Perhaps that is why in 2004 Frank Bruni awarded Masa four stars, the highest rating attainable.  When you surrender $1500 of hard-earned cash for a meal, "perfect" is a word that should come up more than a few times when describing it to others.  

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