|Masq’s jambalaya with shrimp, andouille sausage, and a small dollop of creamy goat cheese|
It’s not easy to find a good jambalaya in New York, which is why I was so pleased with the version offered at Masq, a New Orleans-inspired American restaurant in Turtle Bay.
The restaurant’s take on the classic rice dish was creamy and quite spicy, with shrimp and large chunks of sausage that were cooked nicely, not overdone. The heat came mainly from the andouille sausage with just a little help from cayenne. A small dollop of goat cheese on top was a nice touch, even if not traditional, mellowing out the heat and adding a smooth finish.
|The lounge (foreground) and dining room|
Masq channels the New Orleans spirit into an interior that is simultaneously comfortable and edgy. The space is adorned with masks and artwork featuring seductively masked figures, like Mona Lisa wearing a wry smile and a mask. A large mural of barely clothed women wearing masks spans an entire wall. The decor instills the sensation that something intriguing might be going on in the other room.
Co-owner Nora Chaprastian explained to us that the restaurant, located on a floor of a brownstone, was decorated in the style of a New Orleans townhouse and was meant to feel like a private home. A very eccentric person’s home, perhaps. The owners furnished it with an eclectic set of antiques: purple velvet couches, intricate wooden chairs, old lamps, intriguing pieces of artwork.
A recent press dinner gave us the opportunity to try smaller portions of a number of Masq’s fine offerings and to experience its unusual interior.
|Fried mac & cheese with spicy remoulade|
We were pleased to find that Executive Chef Marc Getzelman deftly showcases New Orleans’s love for fried food, serving up crispy treats that are satisfying and not too heavy. Fried mac & cheese was impossible to resist, of course, served in spherical form over a stream of spicy remoulade. The mac & cheese itself was creamy and quite mild, and although it was fried the dish was light and not greasy. The remoulade was unnecessary and overwhelmed the main event; I didn’t use it.
|Crab cake with tartar sauce and more remoulade|
The crab cake was surprisingly good, with meaty crab and only light breading. It was served with a duo of tartar sauce and more spicy remoulade. Made with a tart pickle relish, the tartar sauce was a knockout; so good that if my wife weren’t looking I could eat it with a spoon.
Once again I did not understand the contribution of the remoulade, which suffered from having to compete with the superior tartar sauce. I’d leave it out. On the other hand, an oaked Franciscan Estate chardonnay from Napa paired by co-owner George Chaprastian from the restaurant’s selective wine list did make a nice contribution, picking up the creaminess of the crab cake and the tartar.
|Flatbread with prosciutto, goat cheese, figs and pecorino|
The same remoulade reappeared again on a shrimp po’ boy, but this time it worked. The shrimp were beautifully fried and juicy, served on a doughy Hawaiian roll with a hint of sweetness. A single slice of tomato and the heat from the remoulade rounded out the dish.
|Sabayon with fresh berries|
As far as non-fried dishes, of which there are many, we enjoyed a flatbread topped with the classic combination of prosciutto, goat cheese, figs, and pecorino. It was a great combination of flavors and textures, with slightly bitter arugula, a hint of sweetness from the figs, salty shaved pecorino, and sharp creamy goat cheese. A secret ingredient of gooey melted mozzarella helped hold the flatbread together.
For dessert we were excited to find an attractively presented glass of fresh berries with sabayon; a classic treat that has disappeared from most menus today. The custard was on the thin side and merely enhanced the fruit while letting the berries remain the star. It was spiked with a hint of marsala wine; a nice touch.
Living up to New Orleans’s penchant for parties, Masq plays host to special events, and a microphone standing on a prominent triangular stage in the dining room welcomes guest performers. Behind a red velvet curtain in the back of the dining room, a private room furnished with antique furniture, Persian rugs and more masks has space for 45 people to enjoy a romantic (or rowdy) evening.
306 East 49th Street
New York, NY 10017
Tel. (212) 644-8294
Recommended dishes: crab cake (3 for $19); prosciutto fig flatbread ($15); shrimp po’ boy ($16); jambalaya ($17); sabayon with fresh berries.