If you found this blog by Googling my name or by following sundry noxious links (you know where), please note that all claims that I was fired from my job are 100% false, as are most of the other things written about me. I don't know the people who are libeling me, but it's clear they have some imaginary axe to grind and way too much time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angela and Dan@Matsugen

This is the post where I'm going to tell you exactly how to eat at Matsugen.

1) Go in high summer, when the heat has robbed you of appetite and you feel thin and tan and want to keep it that way. You'll be in a rare mood for something both light and expensive, because that's the taste of summer in New York.

2) You'll be tempted to order oysters, the epitome of waify decadence, but you shouldn't. They're not so special here. This meal is about deft eating - glamour without actual means - and you're better than this.

3) When I was in middle school, sometimes I'd bring Japanese Jello as a snack. My friends called them cuppy Jellos. This is essentially a $9 yuzu cuppy Jello, with sea urchin.

4) The grilled sea eel with cucumber is a solid piece of fish. But that's all you can really say about it. At this point, you are underwhelmed. You don't feel the way Frank Bruni writes, so you also start to doubt yourself - did you come on the wrong night? Did you order the wrong thing?

5) You are redeemed by bakudan.

Sea urchin, salmon roe, scallops, tuna, quail egg, and natto (fermented soybeans) with nori on the side

Essentially, the most delicious things in the ocean condensed into a tiny, perfect mosaic, lining the bottom of a bowl.

5) Japanese is the only cuisine where it is acceptable to renounce food-sharing. It just doesn't work. Pretty much everything at Matsugen brought out the jealous food-hoarders in Dan, Angela, and me, aggressive foodies all, but bakudan was the worst. Order one for yourself. You will scoop up this delicate, briny umami goo with crisp sheets of nori and it will be gone in two or three transcendent bites.

6) Soba. Get it, because that's the smart thing to do - go with what the restaurant is. Don't order filet mignon at a seafood shack; don't waste your money on Kobe beef shabu-shabu at Matsugen. If JG says it's about the soba, get the fucking soba.

Inaka (coarse) soba with husk, served cold with goma-dare sesame sauce

Seiro (medium-husk) soba served with kamoseiro duck soup

Matsugen special soba with scallion, bonito, yam, sesame, okra, wasabi, cucumber, myoga, shiso, egg, and nori

7) You get to choose the thickness/coarseness of the soba to go with the fixings you want. When in doubt, go for the inaka, the thickest of the three. It has the most pleasant chewiness and earthy flavor, and I don't mean that in a quinoa sort of way.

8) As you swirl and dip your way through these noodles - a plunk in the sesame sauce, a trail through chopped scallions, a dab of wasabi - you start to get that Matsugen, at its best, is all about the joyful verbiage of eating. Which is just my fancy way of saying it's fun. Everything else is just veneer - the celebuchef, the reviews, the expense. Especially the expense, because expensive restaurants can be tragic; it's hard for the taste of food to hold up against the taste of money. If the appetizers had you wondering whether your palate was missing something only rich people could taste, the soba brings you back. These noodles are not hard to understand. They're fucking good.

9) Slurp.

10) They bring you a teapot with the water the noodles were cooked in. The water retains a lot of the nutrients that were shed during cooking, a server will explain. Rinse your bowl with it, drink it down. If you grew up like I did, it reminds you of mom and dad drinking boiled dumpling-water after dinner. Who knew there were nutrients? It's a refreshing sip.

The takeaway: Go to Matsugen. Order the bakudan and a soba for an early dinner. Go home. Make some mac and cheese when you get hungry again before bed. Sleep happily.

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