Masa in Midtown has long held the title of the country’s most expensive restaurant, a distinction it doesn’t appear to be in danger of losing thanks to a new eye-popping set of prices. An extravagant counter meal of wagyu beef, caviar-crowned toro, and white truffle ice cream will soon cost at least $1,000 per person, and that’s before a single drop of wine or sake is poured.
In the early aughts, a time of gilded, sometimes Marie Antoinette-style opulence in the New York dining world, a solo meal at the sushi den used to run an unthinkable $500 or thereabouts. Now, that wild number almost seems quaint.
Starting in April, a prized bar seat at the restaurant will jump by $150 to $950, according to the venue’s reservations page. Add on tax and the omakase service will run $1,034. Patrons choosing to sit at one of the tables will pay $750, a $100 increase. A spokesperson did not respond to an Eater inquiry about the new pricing.
Masa, it should be noted, is not an obscure private club for yacht owners. The chef, Masa Takayama, accompanied Anthony Bourdain during an episode of Parts Unknown, and has appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers. The restaurant itself received a maximum grant of $5 million from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund last spring, a pandemic-era program that most New York culinary establishments were shut out from. And Masa is the only stateside sushi-ya with three Michelin-stars, an accolade reserved for establishments so impressive that they merit, in the words of the Red Guide inspectors, a “special journey.” It’s the type of place that would theoretically justify a trans-Atlantic voyage.
The new pricing, however, allows for a more sobering superlative: Masa now ranks as the only high profile U.S. restaurant where dinner for one will regularly command $1,000 per person before drinks. Even amid Manhattan’s competitive fine dining scene, no other venue even comes close in price — with the exception of an over-the-top menu offering at Per Se, conveniently located next door to Masa at the Deutsche Bank Center.
Masa’s pricing has long trended in an exclusionary direction, but a meal for two that will likely run close to $2,500 after beverages telegraphs even more aristocratic energy, something to the effect of: If you have to compare the cost of a dinner with what you spend on monthly rent or an entire vacation, maybe this place isn’t for you.
Takayama’s hike is just the latest in the wake of upward price moves throughout New York’s high-end Japanese scene. Rising food and supply chain costs, along with strong consumer demand, have pushed the cost of a luxe sushi dinner into the $400 per person range at no fewer than seven venues across Manhattan. In that regard, the changes at Masa are not unexpected; the omakase spot is susceptible to the same inflationary forces as any restaurant. But with so many capable competitors serving intricate sushi meals in serene environments — a reality that didn’t exist in 2004 when Takayama helped jumpstart the city’s fledgling omakase scene — one wonders how much added value or luxury Masa brings at twice the price of its peers.
Then again, perhaps part of that added value isn’t culinary expertise or service, but rather privacy. Amid our Instagram-everything era, Masa is the only haute sushi spot I know of that explicitly bans photography. Those who violate this policy might be asked to leave without a refund, according to the venue’s FAQ page.
It’s also worth noting that Masa had just raised its prices earlier last year. The restaurant introduced a new reservations system in 2021, charging diners a premium for a promised seat at the smooth hinoki counter, where patrons can watch the chefs methodically craft pristine bites of sushi. Customers sitting at the tables, in turn, would pay less. That’s not a point to be overlooked: Part of the pleasure of sushi comes from watching a master turn raw fish and rice into edible art. No small amount of joy also comes from consuming the fish at its peak; nigiri sushi and maki rolls are often best eaten when a chef hands them to you personally, seconds after they’ve finished preparing them.
This is all why so many ambitious omakase spots don’t even offer table seating — setups where rice can turn cold, where nori can fall limp, and where patrons don’t get to observe all the nuanced craft. Masa, alas, is different. At these prices, it can feel less like an effort to provide the best sushi to everyone, and more of an exercise in squeezing the wealthy in exchange for better seats.
To be fair: bar patrons also get an extra wagyu-truffle appetizer.
So there you have it. New York has seen the rise of $5 slice pizza and $100 mains for one. Now we have the $1,000 meal for one. One has to wonder whether and when others will follow. In the meantime, Masa’s reservation books are wide open.