Monday, March 28, 2011

Masa, South End, Boston

Years ago I often proclaimed Masa, a Southwestern inspired restaurant located in Boston's South End, to be certifiably delicious.  However, as I continued to frequent, and I brought more and more people with me, I started to falter in my declaration.  There were misses in the service, the quality of food, the attention to detail.  I began to look for other spots to recommend to hungry friends, and I stopped dining at Masa all together.  Over the past few months Masa has undergone a bit of a transformation, back of the house has been over hauled, front of the house has been spiffed up, and I was asked to return.  I entered Masa wondering if their changes could have brought them back to the dependable spot they once had been, offering delicious Southwestern fare, a cuisine which Boston is in need of.

As I waited for my dining companion to arrive, I took a seat at their bar and was greeted by their bartender.  One thing about Masa that has always held true is their cocktails.  They feature an incredible array of tequila's- many marked for simply sipping, and others to be used in their imaginative cocktails.  Tempted by the drinks, I stuck with wine to start as I thought the tequila my impair my taste buds.  After all, I was there to check out the food scene first.

Once seated at our table, we were greeted by our incredibly friendly waiter, DJ and while we perused the menu, he got us started with their bread basket which is served with three different spreads, my favorite being their molasses butter.  This was one of the best parts of Masa that I remembered, their bread basket includes some incredibly delicious corn bread, and, if you ask nicely, they will even warm that corn bread for you.  Picture tasty corn bread, sweet and savory all at once, warmed and spread with decadent molasses butter.  The flavor combination between the corn and the molasses is made in heaven. 

Off to a good start, we decided to start with some recommendations from DJ and began with both Blue Cornmeal Fried Oysters, and their Spicy Ahi Tuna "Cabo Rolls". The oysters were served first, showing off their beautiful blue crust against a cherry pepper aioli and served with a mignonette for dipping.  The crunch of the blue cornmeal was a perfect offset to the delicate texture of the oyster hidden inside.  The salty sweet flavor of the oyster really shown through and when dipped into a bit of the mignonette, its tangy vinegar flavor really showcased their subtle taste.  Personally, I would have liked a bit more flavor in the cornmeal itself as it seemed lend only textural relief for the oysters and I would have loved if it had a personality of it's own.  That said though, these were a delicious starter, a lovely way to bring oysters into the southwest.

Just as we were finishing up the oysters, the much acclaimed Cabo Rolls arrived at our table.  Two large halves of a roll, a crisp fried dough wrapped around rice and then large pieces of perfectly rare tuna, sat atop a swirl of avocado wasabi puree.  I was astounded at the size of these, and struggled with the most "proper" way to enjoy them, but once I finagled a forkful of rice, crispy exterior and tuna, I understood what the rave was about.  The soft, gummy texture of the rice gave way to the tender tuna, with the crisp exterior providing the necessary crunch.  I really loved that this dish, an obvious homage to sushi rolls, incorporated wasabi into the southwestern ingredient of avocados.  Together this became a very tasty fusion, without marring either.  

It was strongly recommended that I order the braised pork shoulder for my main course, and I decided to take the suggestion.  Served a top garlic mashed potatoes, with baby arugula and a port fig sauce, it sounded like a dish that I would enjoy.  The pork, braised in beer (always good news in my book), was tender and smokey tasting, exactly the kind of flavor that I was looking for in something southwest inspired.  It was topped with sauce tasting of adoboe, a beautiful, rich, slightly spicy sauce which drew out the natural flavors of the pork.  The really beautiful touch to this dish was the fig and port sauce.  Plump spoonfuls were strategically placed around the plate, perfect for the diner to dip into at their whim.  Fig, I often find, can completely overpower a dish.  It is sweet and delicious, but only when used in moderation, when overdone, it overshadows every other flavor.  Masa was able to incorporate it's sweet beauty while still allowing every other flavor their respective place on the plate.  I can absolutely see why this dish was so highly recommended.  I would absolutely order it again- if I wasn't swayed by one of the other delicious sounding options.  

I did also, finally, switch up my drink order to indulge in a unique cranberry margarita.  Sadly the extent of the ingredients isn't currently listed on their website but this one packed a bit of a punch (at least to my normal non-tequila drinking self) but did so while still showcasing great flavors.  It you are at all a tequila drinker you really should try out either their drink list or their specialty sipping tequilas -they are really incredible.

I have to say, Masa absolutely exceeded my expectation, and far surpassed their own history.  Our service was efficient, knowledgeable and incredibly friendly.   The food is definitely coming back to its original place.  Menu items are imaginative and nicely showcase the wonderful flavors of the southwest but with unique twists and turns to keep your interest piqued throughout the meal.  Where I once vowed to not return to Masa, now I look forward to heading back over and trying out more of their menu!

NB: Masa also has a location in Woburn.

Masa on Urbanspoon


Alicia said...

Sounds like a memorable meal.
I agree with your previous assertion - though I've always had good food at Masa, the service has been lackluster several times. Glad to hear that they're getting back into the swing!

Jen said...

Sounds like things have turned around there. I had heard similar reviews that it was much better in the past. Sounds like we need to try it.

Anonymous said...

So disgusting. This has got to be the worst restaurant in Boston. Even there servers told us that while our food took 1 hour to get to the table. Lovely when a server says "yeah the owners are Idiots and don't care about anything as long as the they make a buck. We don't even have a chef anymore, just linecooks who cant actually cook." With that my party of four got up and left. The GM who i guess is also the owner or something, told US "good riddens, your Not welcome back!" when we said how awful the food was.

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...