Pete Wells of The New York Times began 2015 with a review of one of the most luxurious restaurants in New York, Kappo Masa—or at least, that was what he thought. Instead, he judged one of the more over-priced and over-hyped establishments the city plays host to, and so only awarded it a “Satisfactory” rating.
His review reads much like those now well-known Mastercard commercials in which they name a few material items and their price, and then name something sentimental and call it “Priceless.” Unfortunately for Wells, his experience at Kappo Masa was far from priceless and was, in fact, not worth the outrageous amount of money charged for the hit-or-miss food and service.
He opens with a series of facts about the background of the restaurant in that Mastercard advert-like style, “Galleries owned by Larry Gagosian, the powerful and well-connected dealer who has spent his career goosing the prices of contemporary art higher and higher: 14. Restaurants owned by the chef Masayoshi Takayama, who has spent his career charging more for Japanese food than anyone else in the United States: five. Restaurants the two men own together: one”
When he gets to the food, he continues in this fashion, moving onto the prices for individual dishes, such as the ”Price of a maki roll of chopped fatty tuna wrapped in rice with caviar piled on each of the eight pieces: $240… Amount I spent for 5.5 ounces of grilled steak raised in Australia: $78,” which are all pretty astounding, but perhaps could be justified if they were some of the best he had ever had.
Unfortunately, they were not, and Wells doesn’t wait long in his review to make his displeasure and disappointment extremely apparent as his listings became increasingly caustic and unappetizing, like his description of the yellowtail collar, a noodle dish, and tacos he was served, “Price of yellowtail collar left on the grill until it lost the silky, puddinglike richness that is the whole point of this cut: $28. Price of noodles extruded from ground shrimp, a gluten-free invention of Mr. Takayama’s, sloshing around in a greasy pond of way too much melted butter and not enough of the serrano chiles that may have given the dish a little spark: $24. Price of four tiny, cold flour tortillas filled with roast duck, floppy matchsticks of uncrisp duck skin and batons of overcooked foie gras: $26.”
Not every dish was a strike to him, however, though even in his positive descriptions he included the price of these items, “Every once in a while, something genuinely remarkable would arrive, as if from another kitchen. Cubes of superb raw tuna ($34)… Butterflied grilled octopus ($24)… was something like Japanese shrimp scampi, a terrific surprise… “baby dancing shrimp,” in a shattering, exquisite batter dusted with ground chiles ($26).” He sneaks in one more sarcastic comment about the value of even the good “sea urchin risotto with springy grains of rice, some very fresh chanterelles and almost enough urchin to silence any protests about the price ($48).”
The critic is also left unimpressed by the staff’s inability to satisfy their customers’ needs when something surprising happens during service, such as a candle knocked off a table, “Servers who rushed to our side and fluttered about and acted distressed after one of them bumped a votive candle off the table’s edge: three. Servers who asked if anyone had been hit by the candle or checked to see if we had wax on our clothes: zero,” and he reports that one never returned with the answer from the kitchen about the ingredients of a particular dish. Overall, Wells believes that “They can act out a solemn, respectful greeting or a deep genuflection of apology. What they don’t always do is care.”
Wells stops short of vilifying owner Larry Gagosian and chef Masayoshi Takayama, humorously giving them the benefit of the doubt that “It doesn’t seem possible that Mr. Gagosian and Mr. Takayama just made up these prices out of thin air, diabolically chortling like Batman villains.” Instead, he refers to the changing culture of the island, and lumps Masa Kappo into the group of establishments that are seemingly constructing a Manhattan only accessible to the ultra-rich, explaining that “if you are one of those people who suspects that Manhattan is being remade as a private playground for millionaires who either don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars for mediocrity or simply can’t tell the difference, Kappo Masa is not going to convince you that you’re wrong.”
Whatever the reasoning behind the pricing of the menu actually is, in the end, the critic slams the restaurant for failing to deliver the quality those steep prices should inherently promise, judging that “Kappo Masa provides a pantomime of service without the substance, and the restaurant itself is an imitation of luxury, not the real thing.”