I don’t know what flipped the switch, but lately I want rice. I want raw fish. I want dumplings dipped in ponzu sauce. I want big bowls of hot soup filled with slurpable noodles.
And, most recently, I really want them from Masa Ramen & Sushi.
This little strip mall restaurant is classy cozy inside. The decor is lovely, with big geishas on the walls and delicate touches to the condiments and flatware that gives everything a premium appeal. However unfashionable Memorial Road is to a certain segment of the population, the interior of Masa feels a world away from the packed chain restaurants farther along the street.
Over the past month, this has been my indulgence—a perfect oasis in the middle of a brutal start to 2021.
But let’s be clear—the decor wouldn’t mean squat if the food wasn’t good. Thank goodness, the food is good.
I am an appetizer person. Not that I’m small and easily shared—I’m clearly neither—but I can barely resist ordering one or two starters, and Masa is happy to oblige.
My girlfriend is wild about fried cauliflower of late (especially the cauliflower elote from Mexican Radio), so it was a no-brainer ordering the cauliflower tempura ($5). The spicy sweet sauce that comes with it is excellent, with a bit of tangy pop that makes the tempura-batter-fried cauliflower taste like candy. Be prepared to fight over the last piece.
The same goes for the rock shrimp ($8) in that light, mildly sweet tempura batter. It tasted like going to a fancy State Fair, as if that was a thing. The shrimp are quite large—enough for two or three bites on each piece—and the tender seafood inside is perfectly cooked, all juicy and plump.
I enjoyed the spicy tuna crispy rice ($12), though I’m less a fan of the macerated tuna paste and more in favor of the fried rice crostinis. If they’d dice the tuna, medium-small, and treat it with hot sauce, I think the texture and flavor combination would be unstoppable. Still, it has a high hill to climb to get past the yellowtail jalapeno ($12). Similar to Yuzo’s hamachi ajillo, the yellowtail jalapeno appetizer is served as thin planks of raw yellowtail topped with a thin slice of jalapeno, soaking in a spicy ponzu sauce. The mix of soft fish, the crunch of raw jalapeno, the blend of heat and sweet—it’s a must must-have for sure.
Good as a starter, or even just a small meal, the sashimi appetizer ($11) is seven pieces of raw fish and a few leaves, if you’re into greenery. When my girlfriend ordered it, she received salmon, tuna, and red snapper, but the fish selection can change based on what’s fresh.
We got a few specialty rolls, but I don’t think we’ll go that route again. Is it just me, or do most specialty rolls kind of blend into one giant tempura rolls covered in three-too-many sauces most of the time? I like sushi because I want to taste the fish, not because I’m not getting enough eel sauce and cream cheese in my life. Your mileage may vary, but I am much more apt to get the simple fish-and-veggie rolls or go straight for nigiri.
If you do opt for simplicity, I tried both the salmon belly and tuna belly nigiri (market price on each) and, yowza, that’s decadence. That fish is held together by happy thoughts and angel wishes, because it practically melted on my tongue. Just...wow. Make sure it’s in your budget before you order, but it’s a treat I fully expect to enjoy every so often.
For more fish, because I am a big, big boy, I recommend the chirashi ($22), which is kind of a DIY nigiri with several kinds of raw fish, some tamago (egg) and octopus, served alongside rice. Or, if you’re a salmon fiend like my girl, go straight for the salmon don ($18) which is literally just slices of raw salmon and a pile of rice. If I were to get that again, I’d ask that they don’t sauce the rice. There was something off-puttingly sweet about it that made it less appetizing to me.
I’ve been more than a little obsessed with ramen lately and that education has taught me that there’s a lot more to learn. Most of us, locally at least, are most familiar with a fairly dense broth in our ramen, like the tonkotsu at Tamashii and Yuzo or the tori paitan from Goro. Masa also has a tonkotsu ramen ($12.50) and the broth is flavorful, but also thinner. The pork belly is also sliced a little thinner and the outside seems a bit more done. I think it’s good to try different varieties of the same thing to really drill down into your own tastes. I like a thicker broth, generally, but if I’m in the mood for ramen and want it a bit lighter, I know to head to Masa.
Much thinner are the broths for the shoyu ramen and miso ramen (each $12.50). The shoyu is a chicken broth-base while the miso is chicken broth with...you guessed it...miso. The noodles are also a bit thinner. As a still-learning ramen neophyte, I’m excited to dig into more of these styles and I’m grateful that more ramen shops are popping up around town.
I’d love to tell you about the desserts at Masa, but there’s a problem—I’ve never had enough room left at the end of a meal there to order dessert. Honestly, I don’t see that changing in the near future, either. When the food is as tasty as this, what little control I have flies out the window.