Back At It Again
If you have ever lived in or around DC, I'm sure you've heard of Richard Sandoval's restaurant Masa 14. This Asian-Latin eatery has been a staple in my DC restaurant circuit for years but had sort of been forgotten as I was trying to keep up with the insane new restaurant openings in the District. BUT, Masa's new chef de cuisine, Ryan Ratino has put Masa back on the heat map and is absolutely slaying it with innovative, seasonal cuisine. Check out my evening of utter bliss below.
Masa 14 is located in the midst of DC's bustling 14th Street - aka foodie 14th - and opens up to a second floor bar/dance floor area
during the evenings and Sunday Funday brunch Hours.
Assistant General Manager and friend, Chris Wood, greeted me at my table and suggested a cocktail for me that I generally would not ever choose myself, The New York Sour. The ingredients he listed were: Bulleit Bourbon, House Sour Mix, Merlot and Egg White. WTF? I typically do not enjoy sour mix - but the fact that this one is made in-house intrigued me. I also LOATHE Merlot. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? WRONG. This is my new favorite drink of all time. It was smooth and frothy and felt soft and pillow-y once it hit my lips - thanks for that, egg white! The slightly sweet and dry notes of the Merlot perfectly paired with the bourbon - diffusing it's sting and making for a masterfully crafted, well balanced cocktail with a touch of the house sour mix. I loved it so much I ordered two for the table next to me. They sucked those puppies down in minutes. Go order one tonight.
I arrived hangry and alone - ready to take on all of the things. I am embarrassed to admit how much of it I devoured. The atmosphere is buzzing and dimly lit with bright neon lights luring you to the bar. Oversized windows overlook a patio on the bustling 14th street, perfect for those who like to people watch or be seen.
First up, the Tuna Sashimi. The first thing I have written in my notebook is "AHHMAZINGGGG!" That basically sums it up - the tuna melted in my mouth, fresh and fatty it was delicious just by itself. The plate was dotted with lemon curd and coconut cream, poached kombu, cucumber and togarashi (a Japanese chili pepper spice that made appearances on many of the plates). All of these components kept each bite exciting - I experimented with each flavor individually and different flavor combinations, no bite was the same! The lemon curd was so delicate - not overly acidic or overpowering - allowing the tuna to shine. Similarly, the coconut cream was most definitely coconut-y in flavor but was almost savory with a hint of lime essence. I was nervous that it would be too sweet - it was a trick to my senses and I could not get enough. The traditional Asian flavors of the kombu and togarashi gave the dish a nostalgic feeling, while adding some heat and some crunch. The kombu was sliced super thin allowing for a hint of fishy umami but not in an aggressively overpowering way. NOM! (I ate the whole thing).
Let Me See that Sushi Roll!
The next dish I was treated to was the Everything Bagel Roll. Not a roll I would typically choose, because cream cheese... but this one was so delicious. It tasted exactly like an everything bagel with lox, cream cheese, red onion and happiness. There was some secret sauce of delight drizzled on top and I also ate the whole thing. All of the rolls sound amazing, so I would recommend that you pop in Friday-Sunday for 2 for $20 sushi rolls!
A plate of beauty to ten-tickle the senses was the Spanish Octopus. Another plate of bite variety - I stayed entertained with every bite. Served with romesco sauce, curried orange, fresh radish, brown butter and grapefruit, I wasn't sure where to start! Once again the star of the plate - the octopus - was just insane on it's own - so tender it cut like butter. I preferred the romesco sauce and crunchy radish combination with the eight legged delicacy, but found the other flavor combinations a fun adventure. To me, the grapefruit was too acidic with the delicate octopus and the curried orange a bit bitter. The romesco sauce was just so perfect - spicy and thick with a silky smooth consistency, and as I wrote in my notes, "SO F*!#ING GOOD." The great part about these complex plates is that you can pick and choose what flavor combinations pique your palette the most! NEXT!
In The Kitchen with Chef Ratino
For the dish that absolutely stole the show during my visit, I was invited back to the kitchen to see how it's made! The special for the evening was a seasonal grilled swordfish served atop classic burre blanc and a ramp risotto, topped with salsa verde, pickled baby onions and fresh watercress. As I wrote in my notes, "OMFG." It was absolutely scrumptious. Garnishes are prepared to order, requiring a slew of those tiny pots and pans you see below. Chef Ratino totally overhauled the kitchen equipment and it's clear why - he knows his shit. He previously worked in the Michelin star awarded restaurant Caviar Russe and did a stage with Wylie Dufresne at WD-50. I was a little star struck to say the least.
Expertly pan-seared swordfish was tender and steak-y with a punch of fresh, spring-y ramp flavor swirled into the fabulous al dente risotto. Acid from the pickled baby onions and salsa verde created an addictive sensation that I assume is similar to that of crack because I could not stop eating it. The fresh peppery watercress was the cherry on top of this sensational dish. I wish I could eat it every day.
Chef Ratino's kitchen is a well oiled machine. I watched him and his sous chefs, Austin St. George and Pedro Guzman, plate up the swordfish, tuna sashimi and various other dishes in a matter of minutes - each one with precise attention to detail. It was a sight to see.
I ate some dessert, which I don't typically do. It was a Nutella s'more tartlet with salted caramel ice cream and fresh cranberries. It was super sweet but the cranberries were a nice acidic vacation from the sugar high. I mostly couldn't stop thinking about the swordfish - but if you like the sweet stuff, you'll like this.
I have not been this happy after a complete meal in while. The dishes were playful and surprising and kept me on my toes. My eyes were constantly wide with delight and my belly filled with expertly contrived, delicious bites of food. The service was friendly and prompt, easing my discomfort of dining alone and the prices were unbeatable! I am so excited for the refreshing revamp that Chef Ratino has made to Masa 14's menu and I hope that you all visit this restaurant as soon as possible.