I love Japanese cuisine. It may be my favorite. Besides sushi, I’m always looking for places to enjoy good yakitori, katsu, ramen, and tempura. I noticed that there aren’t many authentic tempura restaurants in New York City. That is until Tempura Matsui opened in July. It offers New York City’s very first authentic tempura omakase. I had to try it! I made a reservation a couple weeks after its opening. It is located right next to a hotel. You will see the subtle entrance with a small sign next to it.
Upon entering I was politely greeted by the hostess who was all smiles. She sat me towards the left side of the tempura bar. The main dining room only holds a few booths and the tempura bar. The bar seemed to accommodate up to 10 people. Be sure to request a seat at the bar and watch the tempura masters at work!
The dining area was nice and clean, pretty intimate. You don’t have to worry about that fry smell since the ventilation system above the bar seemed to do a good job ridding any smoke and smells. I was looking forward to the Head Master Chef making my meal, but he was busy with a private event in the back. (RIP Chef Matsui)
I wanted to try some sake and had the waiter suggest one for me. He suggested the Matsu No Midori. It was $25 for a carafe.
The sake was nice and mild, not too dry
The waiter asked about any allergies before starting the tasting menu and I mentioned shrimp. I also mentioned it when making the reservation and the hostess was well aware of it. I know shrimp is the star ingredient of tempura, but they did a great job substituting other seafood and shellfish.
The omakase began and the first course (Sakizuke) was Junsai with Sea Urchin. I really liked the presentation. The waiter briefly explains each dish and suggests how to eat it as well.
So what is junsai? It is the mucus covered buds found under lilies. They look like small green stems and the broth had a somewhat thick consistency, almost like aloe vera. It was topped with a nice piece of sea urchin and a dab of wasabi. I mixed it with a spoon and drank the rest straight from the cup. It was a salty savory dish.
The second course (Zensai) soon followed. It consisted of three small dishes presented on a small bridge. Cute.
The first small dish on the right was Komatusuna and Mushroom Ohitashi. Komatusuna is a Japanese mustard spinach and Ohitashi is a spinach salad. The spinach was boiled and marinated in a light soy with mushrooms and the flavorful broth sat at the bottom.
The second dish was Tofu Skin and Edamame. Tofu skin is the thin film that forms on the liquid surface when boiling soy milk. It was served with edamame (soy beans) and some wasabi. It was interesting, I’ve never had tofu skin before. It had a silky texture. It was served in a small martini like glass and after trying a couple spoonfuls, you can pick it up and drink the rest. Milky and slightly salty with a small kick from the wasabi.
The third dish was Octopus Sakura-ni which is a simmered octopus from Hokkaido. It was firm, but not tough at all. It had a nice flavor.
The third course was a Chawanmushi with red rice, Tai fish, and uni Ankake. Chawanmushi is a Japanese egg custard.
It was topped with Uni Ankake. Ankake is a thick sauce and this one had sea urchin.
Underneath the ankake was red rice and Tai fish. Tai is a red sea bream. It was very tender and mixed well with the rice and egg custard. This was very good. It was a nice spin on traditional chawanmushi.
Next was the sashimi course. It included Hirame, sake-steeped Abalone, and Tuna served with freshly grated wasabi. I loved the bright and simple presentation.
The hirame (fluke) was very fresh and mild.
The Abalone was marinated in sake and covered with abalone liver sauce. I’ve had abalone before, but not with liver sauce. It didn’t have that typical liver taste at all. It was good.
The tuna seemed to be chutoro, the medium fatty part of the tuna. Wow, it was delicious! It just melted in my mouth. So good!
It was time to get ready for the tempura. You’re given a bowl of tempura dipping sauce and a container of finely grated daikon radish to mix into the sauce.
The small containers contained two different types of salt, regular sea salt and miso salt.
I used the tiny wooden spoon in each container to put a few pinches of sea salt and miso salt on the small plate provided.
It’s suggested to simply use lemon and salt for the seafood and the dipping sauce for the vegetables.
After a small prep of the salts and sauce, I was ready to begin the tempura omakase!
Now usually the first tempura course would be fried shrimp heads, but because of my supposed allergy, I was given Sea Urchin Wrapped in Tofu Skin. This was awesome because it turns out that I was given a couple items that are ordered separately for an additional cost.
The tempura batter was light and coated perfectly. The tofu skin was very crispy. After the first crunchy bite of the tofu skin, you get the warm salty softened sea urchin inside. Nice!
It’s a good idea to give each piece a couple minutes to cool down since it is taken straight from the fryer, dabbed on paper, and presented to you. Tempura should be eaten hot, but it is very hot at first so be careful.
The second piece was okra. I found all the vegetables to be very fresh. They only use what’s in season and the menu changes seasonally. Hot and crispy. I dipped it into some of the daikon dipping sauce. So good.
The next piece was a Scallop Wrapped in Nori.
This was great! The seaweed was nice and crispy. It went nicely with the perfectly cooked tender scallop. Dipped in some lemon and sea salt. Yum!
Following the scallop was a Cherry Tomato. This is definitely one piece to give a few minutes to cool down so you don’t burn your tongue with the scorching hot tomato juice that comes gushing out instantly on the first bite. The cherry tomato was nice and sweet.
Throughout the night, the oil is maintained at a perfect temperature and the frying of the batter remains consistent.
The master chef fries the seafood and veggies while the other chef carefully dries it on the paper before placing in on your plate.
The next piece was King Crab. Again, the batter is so light and crispy. The King Crab was juicy and tender.
I love mushrooms and the Maitake Mushroom was excellent.
The next piece of seafood was Sillago which is a Japanese whiting. It was very flaky and tender. It was mild in taste and the lemon juice and miso salt gave it some nice flavor.
The fish was followed by a Japanese Ginger Sprout. It was like a sweet onion with a very mild ginger taste. This concluded the omakase.
The waiter asked if I wanted to try anything else before moving onto the next course. I decided I wanted to try one other piece, the eel. So I switched to some beer. They have Sapporo on draft.
The Anago (Conger Eel) was a decent size. I had to test my chopstick cutting skills and broke it into a couple smaller pieces so it was easier to pick up.
The Anago (Conger Eel) was a excellent. I had to test my chopstick cutting skills and broke it into a couple smaller pieces so it was easier to pick up.
The next course was Hamo (Pike Eel) with Cucumber and Plum Sauce.
The eel is simply done. I found the plum sauce pretty tart, so this may have been my least favorite dish of the night.
The Tendon Course was next. Tendon is a bowl of steaming white rice topped with cooked meat, seafood, or vegetables. In this case, it’s usually shrimp, but I was served Squid.
The squid tempura was diced in cubes and placed over the rice. At first, I actually wasn’t sure what it was. It was tender and mild, similar to a potato.
The rice bowl was served with homemade pickles and Akadashi miso soup on the side. Akadashi is a red broth.
The miso soup had nice-sized pieces of clams in it. I was getting full at this point. It was a good amount of food, but because the tempura batter is so light, it didn’t feel very heavy and greasy.
It was finally time for dessert – Peach Compote and Green Tea.
The Peach Compote was soft and sweet. The syrup sort of reminded me of those canned fruit syrups. It was fine, but I actually would have preferred something cold like a sorbet after all those fried items.
Tempura Matsui was a lovely experience. The service was great and the hostess was so pleasant. The vegetables and seafood were perfectly fried with a nice light tempura batter. The sashimi was excellent too. The omakase starts at $200. I was given a couple seafood pieces that usually cost extra. So yea, the price is pretty steep. I truly believe for the price, those pieces should already be in included as well as the eel. It would seem more valuable than the cherry tomato and okra. It was still a fantastic dinner. The menu is seasonal and the items will change from time to time. I would return, but only for a special occasion.
As I got up, the chefs waved goodbye and the lovely hostess followed me outside and continued to wave goodbye until I was halfway down the street. Thank you!
222 E 39th Street
New York, NY 10016