Perhaps it is Kappo Masa’s lack of signage, its subterranean setting, or the fact that few journalists have been allowed to review it that makes this new sushi collaboration between noted chef Masayoshi Takayama and art dealer Larry Gagosian such a low-key gem. But that is exactly what this new Upper East Side spot is – a genuine find that feels like a zen escape in the middle of bustling Manhattan.
Open for less than two months, and with lunch service just added, Kappo Masa already seems like an art-world insiders’ canteen. Entrance is through the Gagosian Gallery and down an elegant staircase lined with Richard Prince prints. There is an open-plan kitchen, and a lively sushi bar is at one end. Finished in traditional Japanese wood and with leather banquettes and immense winterberry arrangements, the room has a serene calm – a perfect backdrop for some of the best, in my opinion, sushi in the city.
Sushi signatures are presented alongside contemporary inventions devised at Kappo Masa. A seared tuna and watercress salad ($28) dressed with thinly sliced ribbons of beetroot and the lightest miso-infused vinaigrette, and an architectural arrangement of Persian cucumber tataki doused with chilli cilantro verde ($16) made for an impressive start, more than equalled by the swift-to-follow small plates of seared bay scallops with essence of clementine ($32), and kale with sea bream ($28) – perfect for sharing.
The sushi was what really did it for me, though – especially the grilled unagi and avocado roll ($34), a feather-light asparagus tempura roll ($18), and a seared-salmon version ($18). My dining companion waxed lyrical about his bento box (clearly a favourite choice of regulars, judging by the tables around us), a refined robata chicken-over-rice ($28) complete with sides of sunomono and assorted Japanese root vegetables.
The name Kappo Masa reflects the techniques of grilling, stewing, steaming, braising and frying (kappo), and a traditional Kappo chef is a master of all of these culinary disciplines. The name lives up to the promise, that’s all I’ll say…