Now three months old, Kappo Masa is not the most expensive restaurant in New York. That distinction belongs to Mr. Takayama’s home base, Masa, in the Time Warner Center. (Price of dinner for one before tax, tip and drinks: $450.) Still, it is expensive in a way that’s hard to forget either during or after the meal. The cost of eating at Kappo Masa is so brutally, illogically, relentlessly high, and so out of proportion to any pleasure you may get, that large numbers start to seem like uninvited and poorly behaved guests at the table.
Price of a maki roll of chopped fatty tuna wrapped in rice with caviar piled on each of the eight pieces: $240. I could never bring myself to order it, or two dishes filigreed with white truffles: the fried rice with mushrooms ($120) or the Ohmi beef tataki ($150). So I can’t tell you how any of them taste, but I can tell you that by the time I spotted something for less than $80, it struck me as a steal.
Amount I spent for 5.5 ounces of grilled steak raised in Australia: $78.
The beef had a species of tenderness that I associate more with bluefin tuna than steak. It tasted something like teriyaki without the sugar. I liked it very much, but mostly I thought, “Why $78?”
In fact, Mr. Takayama charges similar prices across town at Bar Masa. But the food and service allow Bar Masa to pass for an à la carte version of Masa itself. Kappo Masa is nowhere near as good. The raw ingredients may well be the same, but they are often handled carelessly, seasoned indifferently and served inattentively.
Price of bland, watery cauliflower florets with maitake mushrooms that were grilled over far too much heat so their insides were raw and woody while their exteriors was burned to a char that peeled off in blackened flakes: $28.
Price of yellowtail collar left on the grill until it lost the silky, puddinglike richness that is the whole point of this cut: $28.
Price of noodles extruded from ground shrimp, a gluten-free invention of Mr. Takayama’s, sloshing around in a greasy pond of way too much melted butter and not enough of the serrano chiles that may have given the dish a little spark: $24.
Price of four tiny, cold flour tortillas filled with roast duck, floppy matchsticks of uncrisp duck skin and batons of overcooked foie gras: $26.
Every once in a while, something genuinely remarkable would arrive, as if from another kitchen. Cubes of superb raw tuna ($34), seasoned with soy, sake and minced wasabi, were served polar-vortex-cold on a chilled white ceramic drum designed by Mr. Takayama. Butterflied grilled octopus ($24), soft and a little smoky in its dressing of sesame oil and lime, was something like Japanese shrimp scampi, a terrific surprise. There was “baby dancing shrimp,” in a shattering, exquisite batter dusted with ground chiles ($26), and a sea urchin risotto with springy grains of rice, some very fresh chanterelles and almost enough urchin to silence any protests about the price ($48).
If the whole meal were like this, Kappo Masa would be a fantastic splurge. It’s not, though, and those prices start to seem like very expensive lottery tickets. They got into my head in other ways, too, warping my normal sense of value.
Menu price for cress with wasabi dressing: $18.
Amount I paid: $38, making this the first restaurant where I have actually looked over the check before paying and missed a $20 overcharge for a salad. I hadn’t been drinking that night, either. If I had, I might have become even more numbed to gouging.
Approximate retail price of a bottle of 2012 Napa Valley chardonnay from Far Niente: $55.
Price of the same bottle at Kappo Masa: $190.
This was typical. The markup that New York restaurants customarily add to retail wine and sake prices is about 150 percent. The average markup at Kappo Masa is 200 percent to 300 percent. And I don’t need to shop around town to know that a cocktail of unnamed vodka infused with pineapple, even if it is as fresh tasting as Kappo Masa’s, should not cost $25.
It doesn’t seem possible that Mr. Gagosian and Mr. Takayama just made up these prices out of thin air, diabolically chortling like Batman villains, late one evening at Masa. (Number of times each month Mr. Gagosian eats there, by his estimate: two.) And yet if you are one of those people who suspects that Manhattan is being remade as a private playground for millionaires who either don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars for mediocrity or simply can’t tell the difference, Kappo Masa is not going to convince you that you’re wrong.
Kappo Masa provides a pantomime of service without the substance, and the restaurant itself is an imitation of luxury, not the real thing.
Stars I might have given Kappo Masa if the prices were, say, 20 percent lower: one.
Stars I am giving it: zero.
h/t FT Alphaville