241 Church Street at Leonard
$75 for tasting menu, without drinks, without tip
66 was a long time ago but entering Matsugen reminded me of those long lunch hours I used to take to eat at an expensive restaurant and only pay lunch prices. I had a delicate dim sum meal back then, even before Chinatown Brasserie opened, and it cost triple what I would have paid at Jing Fong. No screaming waiters, though, and the white tablecloths remained white even after several dumplings and shumais.
Contrary to popular belief, Jean-Georges Vongerichten is not the chef at Matsugen. Put together the Matsushita brothers wanting their first U.S. mainland restaurant and Jean-Georges needing to replace 66 and you have a high-end Japanese restaurant in a beautifully-designed Richard Meier TriBeCa space. It’s more chic than Honmura An (ahh, more memories!) and it’s more serene than EN Brasserie.
Is it expensive? Definitely, especially if you’re used to Sobaya like me. But if you want to impress, it’s a good place to go, not just for the soba noodles made in-house, but also for sushi, sashimi and even shabu-shabu (also considerably more expensive than Shabu Tatsu’s). If you spend some time looking at the menu, you can get away with paying less than a hundred dollars for two. You won’t be achingly full, but you’ll get the idea why a big-time chef like Jean-Georges would be satisfied with only being behind the scenes on this one.
If you don’t want to be bothered with the several pages of Japanese food with detailed descriptions, the $75 tasting menu when we visited included uni with yuzu jelly–a beautifully assembled starter that’s as creamy as the freshest sea urchin around–a sushi plate, a lobster salad, a bowl of hot soba and a dessert. I highly recommend the hot soba in duck soup and the hot soba with Japanese yam. The noodles yield freely and the broth is so clean: refined Japanese food has never been better.