Sun-Thu, noon-3pm and 5:30pm-midnight; Fri-Sat, noon-3pm and 5:30pm-1am
1 at Franklin St.
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This venue is closed.
The room is essentially the same icy Richard Meier space once occupied by Vongerichten’s failed haute-Chinese emporium, 66. Meier’s original design was all hard edges and cold, igloo-colored walls, and the room still feels that way, except that the famous fish tank by the kitchen seems less populated than before (only an ornery moray eel survives from the previous regime, a waiter told me). The area next to the awkward, tiny entrance has been turned into a kind of low-wattage cocktail lounge, and the old cocktail station is now a sushi bar. In the main dining room, the plain wood tables are still separated by cafeteria-style glass partitions, and the walls are now covered in grey-green sea grass. But this Zenlike touch has a minimal effect on the fractured, boxy space, and the new restaurant’s identity is featureless and opaque.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. After all, Matsugen isn’t really Jean-Georges’s restaurant. The kitchen is run by the Matsushita brothers, three noodle maestros who also operate restaurants in Tokyo and Honolulu. Their specialty is the Japanese buckwheat noodle called soba, which they make fresh here every day. But soba is a casual dish, and to provide the necessary big-restaurant heft (and cash flow), the Matsushitas have added a hodgepodge of options, including workmanlike tempura, pricey, uninspired sushi, even a ridiculously effete version of shabu-shabu. Not knowing where to begin, we called for some sushi, which was professionally made but would have been better if the uni hadn’t tasted several days too old. I liked the inventive soy-milk-based “Tokyo clam chowder,” but the seared fatty tuna belly was insipid. I can recommend the Wagyu salad. I also liked the delicately cooked, ginger-flavored eel. The most prudent move is to avoid the uneven, overpriced appetizers altogether, and go directly to the soba, specifically the chilled “mori” version, which comes in three varieties (“coarse,” “medium husk,” and “no husk”), with an assortment of dipping sauces. As any soba geek will tell you, the noodles differ in color and texture depending on how much buckwheat husk is used in making them. Did my wife enjoy her taste of the much-hyped, husk-heavy “inaka” soba? Not very much. But I did, especially when it was served with the gently sweet duck broth (“kamoseiro”) or “goma-dare” sesame sauce, which is good enough to eat with a bowl of shredded old socks. The most ingenious of these cold items, however, is the “Matsugen soba,” a silken combination of chopped scallion, shiso, and okra, with raw egg broken into it. The hot soba dishes tend to be less imaginative, but my favorite was the duck-and-scallion “kamo nanban,” which resembles something you’d slurp down in a back-alley soba shop in Tokyo.Note
Between the endless courses, try the nice selection of sakes.Ideal Meal
Grilled eel, inaka or Matsugen soba, grilled pork belly or garlic chicken, molten chocolate cake.