Mas is a wonderful restaurant on Downing Street which is almost outside the boundaries of Greenwich Village. For whatever reason, we had never heard of it when we were cruising Zagat’s for a place for a celebration. And Mas scored a 28 for food, which puts it in some very famous company and is, in fact, the highest food score you can achieve in Zagat’s.
A small place and exquisitely put together, its name is Provencale for “farmhouse”, which, for some reason, the restaurant feels it has to include in its logo (in parenthesis) for all those who might otherwise think they were attending what? A religious service? But this take is on a very modern farmhouse indeed. Beautiful stone work makes up several walls. The wooden table that is built into the center of the small main dining room is highly polished and strikingly contemporary in feel as are all the simple chairs used throughout. Somewhat incongruously, the silver ware and some of the china is decidedly old fashioned. And how was the food?
We always read menus before going anywhere and this was no exception. But what came across in the reviews we read gave us every confidence that there were no pitfalls in this place. We love tasting menus and this one, at $68.00 for four courses or $95.00 for six, is very interesting indeed. That’s because there is a set tasting menu which is the first thing you read. But then, our efficient server explained that you can choose any four items from the a la carte menu and make your own tasting menu. That is exactly what we did on both occasions that we’ve been there.
Mas’s menu is very much a seasonal one. So the dishes we had last Spring have all given way to Fall selections, quite appropriate for the chill in the air in New York. There were two holdovers. A delicious seared tuna and one of the most memorable desserts we have ever eaten. But let’s go through our first three courses and wait for dessert.
Andrew and I picked identical menus. When we asked the server if we were missing anything, he agreed with all our choices suggesting a different entrée than we had agreed upon. But in the end, we decided to stick with our initial selections. And they were all wonderful.
We had a wonderful amuse-bouche of beets, shrimp and cucumber. I was surprised to see that the couple sitting next to us, who came in after us, were given something quite different but they raved about theirs too.
We started with a Chestnut soup, creamy-smooth perfection made all the more delicious with its complement of Black truffles and roasted duck leg. Second was an exquisite seared tuna with the slightest trace of a beurre noisette and covered with great crispy shallots. The net effect had Andrew wanting us to make this happen at home. Stay tuned. For our third course, we chose Lobster poached in butter with a parlsey-parmesan foam, chanterelle mushrooms, baby carrots and baby spinach. Even in the tasting menu size, it was superb.
The Seared Tuna with Crispy Shallots at Mas
The chef at Mas, Galen Zamarra (how’s that name for blending cultures?) is a Culinary Institute of America grad, who also trained in France and who, in 2001 won a James Beard Award as Chef at Bouley.
But if all else at Mas is extraordinary, my dessert capped the evening. We ordered Hazlenut Milk Chocolate mousse over chocolate crumble with Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Chocolate Ganache. Of course, salted caramel is this year’s ricotta, but this version was truly, incredibly perfect. The pastry chef is a woman named Catrine Oscarson who won a Golden Scoop Award and quite rightly too. In fact, since our first encounter with her salted caramel ice cream, we started making our own and did so all summer. With our rather elemental ice cream maker from Williams Sonoma ($60.00), we made delicious ice cream in all kinds of flavors. But the standout was our salted caramel ice cream. And so I will include the recipe for it that we got from, (do I need another reminder that it’s gone) Gourmet this summer. Do make it. You will love it.
The service at Mas is very good. The timing is excellent. The only slight complaint we have is that the tables are truly on top of each other and you cannot avoid overhearing every word said by the people on both sides. But since I am an inveterate eavesdropper, it would have only added to my fun were the people next to us a little more interesting than they were.
Mas is not on www.opentable.com, our go to site for restaurant reservations. You must call the restaurant directly at 212 255 1790. Mas is at 39 Downing Street. You can even take the #1 train to W. Houston and you’re practically there.
Recipe for Salted Caramel Ice Cream
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
Equipment: An ice cream maker
1. Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.
2. Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.
4. Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil).
5. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel.
6. Chill custard, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours. Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.