What Celebrities Have Already Dined at Kappo Masa?
by gary walther photography by evan sung| February 16, 2015 |
Food & Drink
Kappo Masa, the new restaurant from u?ber gallerist Larry Gagosian and culinary supernova Masayoshi Takayama, is the latest billionaire hangout.
Masa toro with caviar, one of the boundary-pushing dishes prepared by chef Masayoshi Takayama at Kappo Masa.
The L-shaped dining room at Kappo Masa, which occupies the below-ground level of the Gagosian Gallery at 76th Street and Madison Avenue, is as spare and simple as a haiku: teak paneling, two walls of pearl-gray stone, and a man-high stone vase just beyond the hostess podium.
To read this room, slip into a Sherlock Holmesian frame of mind. First, there’s the layout: two separate sections, the classic Shangra-La/Siberia polarity. The dining room beyond the hostess podium is an island, a teak floor raised a half step. In traditional Japanese architecture, it’s called a yuka. It signals importance. The wall behind it does, too, as it’s made of Oya stone, an igneous rock composed of lava and ash found only one place in the world, Tochigi Prefecture, 35 miles from Tokyo. This section also faces the open kitchen—orchestra seats, in effect—and it has the shape of an embracing oval of tables and banquettes. (The far corner one is the table to get.) Oh, and there’s one other clue: Larry Gagosian himself is sitting halfway down the island section, entertaining two guests, the day I dine.
Kappo Masa is a collaboration between the world’s most powerful art dealer, Gagosian, and one of the world’s culinary supernovas, Masayoshi Takayama, chef-owner of the three-Michelin-starred Masa in the Time Warner Center. The 82-seat restaurant represents the culmination of Gagosian’s longtime infatuation with Takayama, which started in 1989 when Gagosian dined at Ginza Sushiko, the chef’s 12-seat Los Angeles sushi restaurant, famous for its two-hour omakase dinners and astronomical tabs.
Chef Takayama at work in the open kitchen.
When Masa opened in Time Warner Center, Gagosian became a regular, yet when he decided to turn the gallery space into a restaurant, he hesitated asking Takayama, thinking the project too small-time for the maestro. After rejecting plans from a restaurant group, “I just popped the question,” he said in an interview last year.
The word “kappo” is a key clue to the new place. In Japan, kappo is a term loosely used to denote a restaurant in which the chef cooks in an open kitchen and does everything (grill, braise, stew, steam, and fry) but make sushi. “Kappo” is a transliteration of two Japanese characters, “ka” (to cut) and “ppo,” which refers to the various cooking techniques that are kappo mainstays. But Takayama is coloring outside the lines, as Kappo Masa does serve sushi—after all, that’s his calling card—with a predilection for boundary pushing on the non-sushi side of the menu. (Very few dishes overlap the menu at Masa, where Tak ayama still spends most of his time. The chef de cuisine at Kappo Masa is Tony Inn.)
Takayama went out of his way to come up with a distinctive menu for Kappo Masa. One hallmark dish is the surimi pasta, a handmade mixture of gluten-free ground fish extruded into pasta and garnished with seasonal toppings: serrano chile and bottarga the day I dined. Takayama spent a year perfecting a fish blend that lent itself to being formed into pasta. The dish is soft-core vegetarian nirvana, as is its sister spin-off, chili garlic shrimp surimi. Another knockout is the uni custard, made from whole live sea urchin flown in from Santa Barbara, California. The shell is cut open, the uni cleaned, and most of it blended to a custard, but with some pieces reserved and roasted separately to up the complexity of flavor and texture. The entire mixture is then baked and served in the shell.
Kanpachi jalapeño potato julienne.
For the unagi bento, the restaurant imports fresh whole eel from Kagoshima, Japan, which is then cleaned and deboned. The bones are used to make the kabayaki, a traditional sweet and savory sauce, and the eel itself is glazed with it and grilled multiple times to infuse the flavor into the meat. The rest of the bento box is made up of sunomono, an assortment of pickled and braised items, and soup, nameko mushroom miso the day I dined.
Kappo Masa has the celebrity gravitational pull of Jupiter. Woody Allen, Chlöe Sevigny, Peter Marino, and Patrick Demarchelier turned up for the preview, as did a plethora of plutocrats: Steve Cohen, John Paulson, Daniel Loeb, John Hess, and Steve Schwarzman. No wonder Kappo Masa is becoming the latest billionaire clubhouse. 976 Madison Ave., 646-647-2945