Friday, December 20, 2013

Warm Up With This Winter With Some Cajun Flair at Masq Restaurant and Lounge.

Spicy Jambalaya at Masq Restaurant and Lounge
Photo by WGINY
Every February or early March, travelers from around the world flock to New Orleans for the annual Mardis Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," festival. This past March, 2013, one restaurant decided to bring New Orleans to New York. WGINY had the opportunity to sample dishes at Masq Restaurant and Lounge at a press dinner last week, and left feeling warm and satisfied.

Masq's Lounge
Photo Courtesy of Masq
Though the decor at Masq lends itself toward a fanciful New Orleans masquerade, as the name suggests, don't come here expecting beads (except perhaps on New Year's Eve, see below...). The restaurant is actually a cozy floor-through that maintains the semblance of a Cajun bistro while remaining residential enough to resemble a close relative or intimate friend's home you've just been invited to for dinner. In fact, owners George and Nora Chaprastian searched antique shops "up and down the East Coast" for furnishings and accessories that would make the restaurant seem more homey. In addition to the antiques, there are also some eye-catching, custom-designed elaborations, such as the horseshoe shaped bar at Masq's entrance, or the avant garde masquerade mural towards the back of the restaurant.

Asian Marinated Salmon
Photo by WGINY
Masq's main fare is "New American with New Orleans flair," but the menus actually present an international cuisine, with New American and New Orleans inspirations, among others. One of the most surprising dishes I tried was an Asian Marinated Salmon. I've never been a salmon fan, but Masq's presentation persuaded me to move outside of my comfort zone and try something new. I'm glad I did. The sweet marinade, a honey garlic soy sauce, really made this dish shine. It also helped that the salmon itself was not overtly "fishy," but rather as appealing and appetizing as a tender steak. According to Executive Chef, Marc Getzelman, who is also a co-owner, the marinade was a "happy accident" that resulted from trying to reduce salt while preparing the salmon recipe.

Shrimp Po'Boy
Photo by WGINY
Even the more typical New Orleans dishes at Masq tended to have a unique twist. The jambalaya, usually made to share, was topped with creamy goat cheese to "smooth out," Getzelman said, the fiery kick of the hot Andouille sausage. A cajun shrimp po'boy and mac 'n cheese croquettes were both served with a spicy remoulade that rounded out those fried sensations without overpowering the taste. For a lighter flavor, we also had prosciutto fig flatbread, which was a rich reminder that there's no such thing as too much cheese. Covered with large slices of prosciutto, goat cheese, and shaved pecorino romano, there's so much going on that you don't even taste the flatbread, but you'll savor the savory blend nonetheless. Although I didn't get to try the Maryland crab cakes, I'm told it's one of the more popular dishes and that even guests from Maryland will swear that the crab cakes prepared at Masq are better than those at restaurants back home. Apparently some Southerners have also said this about the jambalaya. The menu is always a work in progress so make sure to speak up about what you like, and anything you don't. The chef takes your comments seriously and several former daily specials have become featured menu items. Look for a crawfish dish to make an appearance on Masq's main menu in the very near future.

Custom-Made Horseshoe Shaped Bar
Photo Courtesy of Masq
Of course, no good meal is complete without drinks, and there's no shortage of alcohol where a restaurant with Fat Tuesday roots is concerned. Seasonal cocktails rotate often at Masq, and some Fall and Winter favorites featured hints of pumpkin, apple, and pecan pie. You can also ask your server to suggest wine pairings to complement your meal. I enjoyed a white wine blend paired with the flatbread, "Le Tre Uve 2011 Bianco Di Valpanera Blend," which was a light Italian wine comprised of Chardonnay, Sauvingon and Verduzzo Friulano, and later a full-bodied Argentinian Malbec, "Alamos 2012," which paired richly with the jambalaya.

Masq Restaurant and Lounge is located at 309 E. 49th Street, between 1st & 2nd Aves, in Midtown East. Masq is open for both lunch and dinner, and you'll find happy hour specials at the bar from 4pm-8pm. In true New Orleans fashion, the restaurant closes for rest on Sundays.

Upcoming at Masq: A New Year's Eve masquerade for $80 in advance or $90 at the door includes a 5-hour open bar, 2 hours of some of Masq's best appetizers (buffet-style), live music, party favors, and a midnight champagne toast as the ball drop is broadcast on flatscreen TVs around the restaurant. After you ring in the new year, return on January 8 for the 2014 kickoff of Masq's Spotlight Lounge Music Series, when the restaurant transforms into a coffehouse scene with singer-songwriters taking the stage.

Masq's Private Party Room
Photo by WGINY
For private events, there is a party room in the back, designed to look like a sitting room, and maintaining the residential quality of the restaurant, with antique furniture, mirrors and other interesting pieces. The party room can hold approximately 45 guests. If you have a larger party, arrangements can be made to rent out the entire restaurant.

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