There’s nothing I hate more than wasting good money on bad food. That being said Masons…what a complete and total let down. Just shortly after my visit, the Wong family announced that they would be closing Masons and I can’t say I’m too surprised. If you were rating a restaurant on aesthetics alone I’m sure Masons would fare well with it’s hip furniture, coifed staff and trendy West Elm color scheme…but when you get down to it are you willing to hand over your hard earned cash to choke down food that exudes as much flavor as an actual West Elm catalog?
My recent visit to Masons was during Dine Downtown Week. Some will disagree with me, but I’ve always thought that DDW is a perfect opportunity for a restaurant to showcase what they’re all about and to lure in some new clientele; but I’ve found that more often than not, most restaurants fail to seize this opportunity. Anyhow my dining partner, Mr. S., was curious to explore Masons and see if there was any validity to the hype so off we went. Reservations were easy enough through opentable.com but upon checking in at the hostess desk we were informed that our table was not ready and were directed to the bar. A cursory glance in the dining room showed several open tables. Strike one…I hate when you make a reservation, are on time and are not promptly sat. What’s the point of making a reservation if you end up having to wait anyway?
Mr. S. escorted me to the bar and excused himself to check out the lavatory (if you get a chance, do duck in there and check out the one-way mirror—it can be quite entertaining). Sitting at the glossy bar, I was left to attempt to try and flag down the bartender who was more interested in fixing his perfectly tousled, highlighted locks than attending to his one lone patron. His obvious annoyance at my request for a drink was evident. When I inquired what types of scotch they carried, I was answered with a silent wave over his shoulder to the backlit bar wall. I’m no bespectacled granny but sitting at the bar just a few feet from the bottles, I could barely make out the various liquor labels so I went with what I knew. Once I got my drink, a Macallans 18, let’s just say the pour was unmistakably small. Strike two. Finally after fifteen minutes of watching the bartender adjust his bangs in the mirror, we were finally escorted to our table. The table was flanked by two chairs on one end and a small robin’s egg blue cushioned bench on the other. Since the hostess had taken the liberty to place both menus on the side with the bench, Mr. S. and I arranged ourselves there. What seems like a romantic idea, in actuality is the most uncomfortable way to sit and hold a conversation in a restaurant. We found ourselves having to contort our bodies so that we were perched sideways on a stiff cushion in an awkward half turn. To be honest, I’m not even sure that the acrobats from Cirque de Soleil could have made themselves comfortable on that bench.
As for our server, she was nice enough…when we saw her. In a half empty restaurant, she was MIA for the better part of the night. After a significant lapse in time, she popped up to take our order and to inform us that one of the dessert choices, a “french toast crème brulee” was no longer being offered…duly noted. I opted to start with a glass of their Kung Fu Girl Riesling (I’ll admit I ordered it solely for the whimsical name) and as a first course, the linguine carbonara with housemade pancetta and shaved grana. Mr. S. went with a baby spinach and winter citrus salad. I found the carbonara to be gluey and cold. I noticed that Mr. S., an ardent salad lover, to be listlessly pushing his salad around the plate so I snuck a taste…not just was it overly bitter but the olives seemed to be an odd pairing for a citruscentric salad.
First course completed, plates cleared and I still hadn’t received my wine….hmmmm. For the second course, I decided to go with the slow roasted beef short rib and Mr. S., a bit more adventurous than I, went with the fancily named Ecuadorian white prawn cioppino (a dish which holds a place on Masons’ regular menu). The cioppino was touted to consist of a Spanish chorizo-tomato compote and saffron-lobster broth. Sounds exotic and delectable, right? Well, it was everything but…the broth lacked flavor and Mr. S gagged a bit when he got a bad mussel. My ribs were fatty and stringy simultaneously although the horseradish potato puree was decent…but then so are Betty Crocker’s instant garlic mashed potatoes and I can get those for a fraction of the cost that these spuds cost me. Oh yes, my wine…don’t let me forget that…like my server did. Halfway through our second course, she did pop by to inquire about our dishes and to ask whether we “would like something to drink.” I had to bite my tongue to not retort with a flippant, “Yes, the wine I ordered when I sat down,” but having a mom who instilled good manners in me as a young child, I smiled politely and inquired about my forgotten wine. I shouldn’t have bothered. The Kung Fu Girl Riesling had no kick and was oddly reminiscent to a glass of Two Buck Chuck I had recently been subjected to at a house party. Strike three, Masons…and you’re out.
Having not been punished enough, we foraged ahead into the third course…dessert. Mr. S. went with a cheesecake with a viscous like huckleberry compote and I requested some sort of chocolate cake with an embellished name. We opted to get the desserts to go and surprisingly when we dove into them later in the comfort of my abode, they weren’t bad. They were no Jacques Torres creation but definitely the highlight of this meal.
So you win some and you lose some and in this case our visit to Masons was a total bust. Rumor has it that the owners are slapping a revamp on the place and will be converting it to a “comfort food” restaurant (which seems all the rage these days) by the name of Cafeteria 15L. My opinion on this impending transformation? To borrow a quote from our current president, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,”…meaning, you can slap some new paint on an eatery, change the light fixtures and fiddle with the menu but in my experience if the food’s bad, it’s bad and no amount of “lipstick” is going to fix that “pig.”