Monday, January 3, 2011

Masona Grill Too Good to Keep a Secret

Have you ever dined at a local neighborhood eating haunt that is simply so breathtakingly and surprisingly good that you want to keep it all to yourself? Typically, I’m good at keeping these places under wraps, but West Roxbury’s Masona Grill has had me breaking my customary silence to family and friends. Tucked away on Corey Street, across from a T stop, Executive Chef/Owner Manuel ‘Manny’ Sifnugel’s establishment is not only one of Greater Boston’s hidden jewels, but one of its finest restaurants as well.

Sifnugel, former proprietor of the highly regarded Claremont Café in Boston’s South End, opened up Masona Grill in 2006. His eclectic cuisine can best be described as New American with Mediterranean influences. Born in Peru, traces of South America ingredients adorn several of his dishes (chimichurri brushed atop steak, oregano, et cetera…). Other vibrant, welcomed ingredients such as cilantro and cumin are also freely used.

The ambience is as lively as the food. Colorful artwork (large oil paintings), chocolate covered walls, contemporary light fixtures (including tea lights), hardwood floors, and circular and square-shaped tables (my wife and I sat on dark tan leather banquettes with a view of the street) create an upscale, yet relaxed atmosphere. There is also a marble bar, whereby patrons can view Sifnugel and his staff cooking in the kitchen. Up-tempo and Brazilian jazz music gently play throughout our meal. Named after Sifnugel’s three daughters (Marcella, Sofia, and Natalia, whose black and white pictures instantly greet diners upon entering through velvet curtains), Masona Grill accomplishes a near miraculous feat: it’s the rare establishment that possesses just the right amount of hipness to coincide with its ability to make you feel like you’re eating the ultimate, most intimate home-cooked meal.

For starters, lobster taquitos ($11) were divine. Never mind that they were served as bona-fide open-faced tacos (taquitos should take the form of cigar-shaped mounds, akin to those we sampled at Caribe in Barbados). The freshness and abundance of the crustacean was impressive, while the cucumber, radish, pickled red onions, and sour cream provided a nice contrast to the sweetness of the lobster. Crispy oysters ($10) were nearly as good, served with a zesty tomato remoulade and mango salsa. My one minor quibble was that the dish also came with the same, unannounced trio of cucumber, radish, and pickled onion that accompanied our previous first course, which made for some redundancy.

Entrees fared even better. My wife’s Latin stew ($27) was packed with a variety of fish including lobster, scallops, calamari, came with a delectably spicy broth, and even included small chunks of two favorites items of mine: chorizo and yucca. One very minor problem with the dish was its inclusion of what can best be described as corn on the cob. It was a non-traditional, overly starchy, inedible object. Otherwise, the dish on the whole was well executed. My coffee rubbed sirloin steak was a steal at $26. Perfectly cooked medium rare and innovatively served with chimichurri, the dish was a true standout. When asking our server what made the accompanying potatoes and grilled zucchini and tomatoes so delicious, he remarked that Sifnugel added oregano to the mix. This is a meal I’d confidently match up against any of Boston’s best. I’m still having dreams about how well this cut of meat was prepared.

About a half dozen, well-selected, reasonably priced bottles each of red and white wines ($29-55/bottle, $7-9/glass) adorn the menu. Desserts are also well priced at $7, particularly the sinfully sweet, warmed pecan pie served with house made Guinness ice cream.

While the food is memorable at Masona Grill, it’s the service that is truly exceptional and what elevates our meal to unforgettable status. Having booked our reservation through Open Tables, our server immediately acknowledged our special anniversary we were celebrating, in addition to paying close attention to my wife’s dairy allergy. The meal was extremely well-paced. Upon inquiring about which red wine to pair with my entrée, the server recommended a Malbec, paused for a moment, and then offered to bring samples of both the Malbec and the house Cabernet. Who does that nowadays? In lieu of coffee with my dessert, he suggested I try a port wine ($8), which, he stated, would perfectly balance the nuttiness of the pecan pie (which it did, of course). Getting back to my wife’s dairy allergy, the server came up at one point during our meal and provided us with information on how to prepare a non-dairy equivalent of cheese. Sifnugel himself even went out of his way to call the pastry chef on his cell phone and find out if the seasonal fruit crisp was non-dairy. Unpretentious, overly accommodating touches such as these make Masona Grill a truly special place.

As we leave, my wife and I are warmly greeted by Sifnugel. We are the last patrons to leave for the evening. Has it already been 2 ½ hours since we arrived? The owner shoots the breeze with us, discussing his past, his family, and his love for food. It’s as if he doesn’t want us to go. Neither do we, because it feels as if we’re already home.

No comments: