“Ni chi bao le ma?“ is a traditional greeting in Singapore. Translation: “Have you eaten yet?” This from the city-state that quite refreshingly obsesses over food rather than sports, politics, art, music, and other similarly less interesting human endeavors. Singapore is to food what Sparta was to war. Anthony Bourdain has publicly declared his desire to retire there and my Singaporean-born sister-in-law and brother constantly taunt me with tales of their eating adventures during frequent visits to the hawker centers of Singapore. Fatty Crab is as close as I’ve gotten to the British, Muslim, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch melting pot of flavors that defines Southeast Asian cuisine, until now.
Masak recently opened, with Singaporean native Larry Reutens (formerly of Aquavit) at the helm, in a beautiful British colonial decorated space on East 13th Street in Manhattan. I brought Mrs. GutterGourmet and my sister-in-law and brother to check it out. The emping crackers, made from an Indonesian fruit tree, were the perfect vessel for the belacan sauce — a funky, spicy dried shrimp and chile paste that I’d like to bathe in. The quih pie tee are translated as “top hats” which is exactly their shape after being fried and stuffed with a choice of fillings — an amusing one-bite variation of the ubiquitous spring roll. The four fillings, which were all equally good, were: hen of the woods mushrooms; shrimp, jicama and egg; crudo of arctic char with ginger crème fraîche; and foie gras with raspberry and corn. Rounding out the snack menu was a serving of deep-fried pork butt and tofu croquettes served with garlic chives and a chile-crab “dip” with tiny mantou for, well, dipping. The crab was not the center of attention as at Fatty Crab (which I’m sure my sister-in-law would say pales in comparison to her favorite spicy chili crab dish served at the hawker centers in Singapore), but it was a great starter.
For apps, the steamed mussels also played second fiddle to the laksa broth, which we sopped up with the grilled toast provided for such purpose. The otak-otak sausage made authentically from fish paste with radishes and fennel on the side and was very good, albeit missing its traditional banana leaf wrapping.
We split four of the entrées. The beef shin rendang was pretty good (and made better by the cornbread served on the side), the rock shrimp with grits and a quail egg was better than the beef, and the pork shoulder with fried black rice was even better than the first two. The crowd favorite, though, was the seared duck breast with five spice jus and a little duck crackling. The cocktails were top-notch and the desserts, including a condensed milk cake with raspberries, coconut, and kaya (a coconut egg jam that might make you forget Nutella) ice cream, were very unique.
All in all it was a very enjoyable evening. My sister-in-law, still homesick, and brother would not give Masak the Michelin three-star equivalent in Singapore restaurant reviews of three chopsticks, which is accompanied by the slogan “Die, Die Must Try,” but I think she secretly really enjoyed it almost as much as Mrs. Guttergourmet and I did.