What does an $800 sushi box look like? Chef Masayoshi Takayama — the head of three-Michelin-starred Masa, the most expensive restaurant in the country — launched such a box set last month, part of a delivery program due to the shutdown of his luxe restaurant in the Time Warner Center.
Masa takeout is not on Seamless, Caviar, or even the higher-end reservation system, Tock. There are only 20 boxes per week, each designed to feed four people, and orders are taken by email. There is a waiting list. I got on it, with the intention of owning the first professional stock photos of this historic takeout item.
That an $800 sushi takeout box exists may be surprising, but it’s not completely illogical: Though unemployment is at its highest level since the Great Depression and COVID-19 is still disproportionately impacting poorer communities of color, the wealthy are reportedly getting wealthier during the crisis. It stands to reason that creating new ways for them to spend their money is in order.
But whether delivery sushi is worth the cost is another question. Takayama himself once told Eater that “every kind of dish is prepared and served right away” at his restaurants. Even 10 or 15 seconds, he asserted, would change the flavor profile of the food. Indeed, many of the city’s top sushi masters say that appreciating the craft requires eating the fish immediately.
For the takeout box, which is delivered between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., Masa’s director of brand strategy suggests that the “the fish is able to keep well in the fridge.” She adds that “the rice can stay outside the fridge for up to two days,” a timeline far longer than the FDA’s food safety guidelines.
And while service and ambience normally help justify the $1,300 price tag for a two-person dinner at Masa, the set involves a delivery worker rolling up in a Nissan Sentra and taking the box out of an Igloo cooler. Then, in lieu of a chef crafting each piece, customers must build the hand rolls themselves — without instructions provided by the Masa team. There is a sketch of the box of fish included, but the two vegetable compartments have their labels swapped.
Slices of kanpachi, toro, salmon, akami tuna, tai sea bream, and toro sashimi are packed into rows partitioned by strips of banana leaf. About 45 grams of uni sits on a bed of toro tartare. But the notable item here is the Osetra caviar, which is normally served in a tin on ice. Here, the 21 grams of caviar are transported directly atop a pile of ground-up fish for Masa’s signature dish, the toro caviar. Customers are advised to leave the box at room temperature for half an hour before consuming, which allows the caviar to bleed together with the toro. It creates a pungently fishy, sticky mess, and the resulting odor permeates to a large swath of the fish throughout the rest of the box, which is made of paper-thin wood.
Customers have one opportunity with this box that they wouldn’t have at the restaurant: photos. Chef Masa famously prohibits photography of the dishes at his award-winning restaurant. As an Instagram flex, the sushi set delivers; the box, overflowing with its colorful pieces of raw fish organized into neat little rows, photographs quite nicely.
The takeout box speaks to a truth about how high-end sushi culture has gone for years now: Tiny omakase counters are now often filled with sushi bros, whose boasts suggest that the ability to buy the sushi matters more than the actual taste. And for those chasing the status symbol of Masa, perhaps $800 seems like a small price to pay.