Pete Wells saw a customer at Tempura Matsui explain that she was "allergic to fried food," and leave the restaurant. Which is preposterous, because as Pete points out, "she may have been the first person in medical history with an allergy to a cooking technique. " The set menu has several non-tempura courses — including a tofu dish that Wells loves — followed by a succession of lightly fried pieces of fish and vegetables. Here's Wells on Masao Matsui's handiwork:
Mr. Matsui is a minimalist fryer. His coating was less shell than skin, and he heated it just enough to give it a golden blush. The shrimp were dizzily tender and heavy with their own sweetness. So was the fat Pacific oyster that came along a few minutes later: Warmed but not cooked, it gave up a rush of rich oceanic juices and tasted a bit like cucumber. By the time I tasted the nori-wrapped and fried scallop, still pink at the center, I was convinced that this was one of the most exciting meals I’d had this year.
The exhilaration of that night was not as intense on later visits. Even that first time, I wondered about the tempura asparagus. Did Mr. Matsui have a special farmer who grew delicious asparagus in September? He did not.
Some courses are not as exciting as others on the $200 per person menu, but still, Wells thinks the hits outweigh the misses. Two stars.