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Mas (la grillade), West Village - Galen Zamarra's Wood-Burning Grill in an 80-Seat Room


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The centerpiece of my recent stay in New York was an evening put together by the affable Kirk Wallace (*), a genuinely knowledgable connoisseur of both wine and food (the combination is rare; it's usually one or the other).

The evening began deep within the bowels of Chelsea Wine Vault, where a few of us vagabonds gathered, including perhaps our country's greatest expert of Gaston Huet's wines, Joe Dougherty ((**) who tragically opened a corked '59 Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec during dinner), the brilliant scholar and author, Victor Lederer (look him up on Amazon), and the finest amateur pianist I've ever heard, Sasha Katsman ((***) who plays both Bach and Mozart better than the vast majority of touring concert performers). As a belated birthday present for Victor, Sasha opened my 2011 Wine Of The Year: the unearthly 1948 Vieux Chateau Certan.

We then ambled over to Kirk's beautiful apartment, where he was hosting David Lanher, the new owner of what is perhaps Paris's hottest wine bar, Racine's, and his lovely family. (Yeah, I know I'm name-dropping and throwing out superlatives, but I don't care - these people are all wonderful.) After tasting through some fascinating champagnes, we all formed a conga line and headed over to Mas (la grillade) which opened just a few weeks before. Kirk is a regular there, and had arranged a large BYOB dinner.

The gracious staff went out of their way to treat us all like royalty. We had a huge table on the charming upper floor, the din emanating from below, the large skylight giving the perception that the ceiling was much higher than it actually was (whoever designed this, gets a medal).

Over the course of the evening, we pretty much tried everything on the menu, served family style, with platters of food being passed up and down. There were enough diners, and enough different dishes, that it was quite possible not to try everything unless (like me!) you made it a point to.

Emphasis: simple, with the ingredients on center stage, and the cooking itself a wood-seasoned backdrop. Portions are large and plated unadorned, with only a few of the dishes being composed. Your guide to ordering is as simple as the dishes: if the main ingredient appeals to you, order it.

Things I loved were the grilled oysters, squid stuffed with bay leaf, a whole dorade (presented whole, then mercifully filleted), duck cassoulet, sweet potato purée (this was being assaulted by everyone), hen of the woods mushrooms, beets baked in the coals. This is all very mild cuisine, with wood notes and scents of grilling as the primary flavoring agents. By its audaciously simple nature, it's in danger of being too mild, or perhaps under- or over-salted which is why this food screams out for wine - and we had plenty of that. While everyone had moved onto reds, I selfishly bogarted the remainder of Kirk's magnum of 2010 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett. Mas (la grillade) - pronounced like the Spanish "mas" rather than the southern French word which would have a silent "s" - is a charming space, but with the simple platings and large portions, I'm not sure how much I'd have enjoyed the evening as a solo diner - invariably at family-style restaurants such as this, I either spend too much and have a ton of leftovers, or else I look back upon the meal as monolithic and unbalanced.

At some point in the evening, our table contracted, a fine plate of local cheeses arrived, we sipped some more, chatted some more, said our goodbyes - and I ended up back at Sasha's, fully eight hours after our evening began, holding a glass of 2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Auktion Spatlese - we are not worthy.

(*) Woodward H.S.

(**) McLean H.S.

(***) wife went to Kennedy H.S.

It's a small world, after all.

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