When it comes to eating out, many of us choose to treat ourselves to fine dining for special occasions and celebrations. We all have those favorite restaurants we run to that are a little pricey, but that we allow ourselves to indulge in when the time is right. What makes these restaurants so exquisite is not only their menu options, but their service, ambiance, and overall experience. It feels enjoyable, classy, and is totally worth the participation in this incredible meal.
Chefs work hard to not only create this experience for their guests, but also to create works of art in every dish. The passion for flavor and food creations comes out in the dishes we get to eat. While many Chefs have mastered this art, no one has accomplished recognition quite like Chef Masayoshi “Masa” Takayama. Chef Masa Takayama is a Japanese chef and owner of his eponymous three-Michelin star sushi restaurant, ‘Masa’ in Manhattan, New York (1).
Chef Masa Takayama
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Born in a small town called Kuroiso in Tochigi, just three hours north of Tokyo, Takayama spent his early childhood working alongside his parents assisting with their fish shop and catering business, sometimes at the expense of his school education. He, along with all his siblings, would cut fish and load them into display cases before school, and would help deliver sashimi his father prepared for customers after school. During catering events, he would assist his parents in preparing and serving a five-course dinner for an upward of 200 guests at a time. These early years in the industry launched him into a rich career in food creation, and after high school he had the privilege of becoming a culinary apprentice at the famous Sushiko in Tokyo. As per many apprenticeships, Takayama spent many years as a dishwasher and bathroom cleaner before he rose through the rankings to the level of sushi chef.
In 1978, young Takayama traveled to Los Angeles, California for a vacation. The beautiful sunshine state quickly won over his heart and he was set on moving to the United States. Shortly after in 1980, Takayama opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles, Saba-ya. While he had much success with this restaurant, his goal was to eventually open a restaurant that would provide ingredients and flavors more authentic to what was available in Japan. His next restaurant, Ginza Sushiko, had brought him closer to the food he was aiming to prepare in the United States. This extremely exclusive, 12-seat restaurant was wildly successful and held the title of L.A.’s most expensive sushi restaurant. But after a decade, Takayama needed a change of scenery. He sold the restaurant to his sous chef, Urasawa, and moved to New York.
The Start of Masa
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In 2004, Chef Masa Takayama opened the infamous sushi restaurant, Masa, on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, New York (2). This exclusive experience is considered the most expensive restaurants in the United States, and one of the most expensive restaurants in the world. The restaurant offerings are Omakase, which is a Japanese phrase that translates “I’ll leave it up to you”. There are no menus, only chef-selected meals costing $595 per person, and even up to $1,500 for two after drinks and tax. With only 26 seats available, reservations are aggressively sought after, booking weeks, sometimes months in advanced. While there is no menu to order from, Chef Masa prepares each meal carefully, and keeps record of guest’s reactions to the food so he knows to cater to them on their next visit.
Aside from the incredible food, is the experience you will receive when eating here. The sushi bar itself is a $260,000 piece of hinoki wood, extremely rare from Japan. Masa is only one of two restaurants in the United States to have a hinoki wood sushi bar. Takayama takes great pride in making sure the ambiance and flavors are completely Japanese influenced, and flies in 90% of his fish fresh from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. He uses seasonal ingredients from Japan, allowing his guests to experience the full Japanese sushi experience. With a side hobby in pottery, Takayama also takes careful pride in designing and creating the plates at Masa, along with the wood and bamboo sake cups.
Masa has received renowned recognition and awards both nationally and internationally. In 2009, Masa received the highest Michelin rating of three stars, and was the first Japanese restaurant in the United States to do so. While a massive accomplishment indeed, the recognition did not stop there. Masa was also one of the few restaurants in New York City to hold a four out of four star rating by The New York Times, and a five out of five stars in the Forbes Travel Guide (formerly known as the Mobil Guide). Recognition and awards to this caliber means that people will travel to New York from all over the country and even the world just to eat at this restaurant.
DIY Sushi Boxes
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On Friday, April 17th 2020, Masa temporarily closed its doors due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. With safety for his customers and staff in mind, the restaurant is closed until further notice. However, their incredible dining experience can be brought to your living room. With only 20 boxes available, Masa is offering an $800 make-your-own sushi box with pre-prepared ingredients and instructions. Each box will feed up to four people and will include pre-sliced raw fish, vegetables, nori, rice, ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce, settling at about $200 per person. If you are looking to experience the incredibly authentic Japanese sushi experience, now is the time to check it out for a drastically cheaper price than the normal dining experience.
Holding it’s title as the most expensive restaurant in the United States, Masa continues to be a sought after experience for the classy food enthusiasts. With carefully sourced and prepared ingredients, your experience is sure to take you to the heart and soul of Japan with every bite. With recipes, techniques, and knowledge that have been passed down through generations, Chef Masa Takayama settles for nothing less than excellence.