East midtown is chockablock with restaurants, but it’s hard to find really good food – for lunch or dinner — at reasonable prices in a comfortable setting. Masq, only six months old, is an exception and — if you live or work anywhere near 49th Street — a real find. It’s 2-Course Prix Fixe Lunch (with wine or beer) is unbeatable, and can be eaten at the cozy, horseshoe-shaped bar. Once you’ve enjoyed the welcoming service and Chef Marc Getzelman’s skills at lunch, you’ll definitely want to return for dinner or to book a private party. Google already has booked a party, so the word is beginning to get out.
There’s a funky feel to the place, a floor-through brownstone with four distinct rooms (Bar, Lounge, Dining Room, Private Party “Red” Room), decorated to evoke the Big Easy. But there’s nothing funky about the food.
The menu is a great mix of casual food, the kind that everyone likes to eat when they aren’t being fancy. It draws on a variety of ethnic cuisines, everything from Quesadillas, Grilled Paninis and Flat Bread Pizzas, to four types of New Orleans style Po’ Boys, Crabcakes, Jambalaya, Salads and, yes, Hummus. What’s not to like?
I’ve never been a Mac ‘n Cheese person (even though it seems to be everyone’s favorite comfort food), but this devilishly good little croquette (normally there are three in an appetizer for $8) surprised me. It looks kind of dry and plain on the plate but is anything but. Instead, it’s a New Orleans inspired mix of jalapenos, bacon, cheddar, and mini-macs rolled in Panko breadcrumbs. And when the crisp, non-oily croquette (resting on a spicy squiggle of Remoulade) is cracked open, it oozes a moist, smoky, spicy lava of mac-embedded cheddar. Remarkable. Definitely not to be missed.
The Prosciutto Fig Flatbread ($12), sweet and salty, is sensational, and easily shared, as is the vegetarian flatbread, crowned with goat cheese ($11). I also enjoyed the Italian blended white wine – Le Tre Uve ’11 Bianco I Valpaneva – paired with the Flatbreads.
I love salmon and have ordered it at restaurants far fancier and pricier than Masq, but nowhere has it been better. In fact, for me, the high point of the meal was its Asian Marinated Salmon ($18.95). A “regular special,” it is marinated in a honey and garlic soy sauce, nestled on a bed of mixed greens, and absolutely perfect, which is to say, moist, flaky, tasty and lovely. I could eat it every night of the week. And it’s healthy!
Traditionally, New Orleans Po’ Boys, a kind of submarine sandwich, are served on French bread. Although you can get Masq’s Shrimp Po’ Boy on a baguette, the chef served it to us, slider style, on a soft, slightly sweet Hawaiian Roll, with lettuce, tomato and a side of slaw. It was good, but not great because the breading was too heavy. In fact, in both the Cajun Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy ($16) and the Masq Maryland Crab Sliders ($16), the breading – instead of being light and delicate — overwhelmed the shrimp and lump crabmeat inside. However, I did enjoy the New Zealand 900 Grapes ‘12 Pinot Noir served with these dishes.
If you love hot, spicy food, you will love Chef Getzelman’s Jambalaya, probably the best known – and variable — recipe emanating out of New Orleans. Like paella, it’s a rice dish with a mix of hot Cajun spices, plus Andouille (pork) sausage, shrimp and chicken. Masq’s special touch is to top off the dish with Goat Cheese. It looks great and helps to bring down a notch the heat of the spices. It paired well with an Alamos ’12 Malbec from Argentina.
For dessert, there is a flourless chocolate cake ($8) that I aim to try when I return. Instead, we finished our meal with a taste of summer, Getzelman’s version of Sabayon ($8).
Thursday is normally live music night (Acoustic Blues, Jazz, Zydeco, Rock) but we were there on a Tuesday evening, and a rehearsal seemed to be underway.
Masq is a great neighborhood restaurant. The dishes I enjoyed were outstanding and I look forward to returning to a place where, as co-owner George Chaprastian put it, “Every day is Fat Tuesday.”
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
306 East 49th Street (Between First & Second Avenues)
Lunch: Mon – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Dinner: Mon – Wednesday, 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday, 4 p.m. – 1 p.m.; Closed Sunday
Happy Hour: Monday – Saturday, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Live Music: Thursday, 8 p.m.– 11 p.m.