Masa in the South End serves upscale Southwestern, something that's harder to come by up here in New England that I'm used to growing up below the Mason-Dixon line. (Of this past we do not speak. Kidding. Sort of.) So Masa seemed a great choice for me, and for the most part it was a nice departure from my usual dining spot, aka my kitchen. (Though note the tiled floors of the restaurant look very familiar ...)
I liked Masa's atmosphere from the beginning. Be it my penchant for wrought-iron chandeliers - thanks Mom, for getting me to spend countless hours this past year looking at lighting fixtures for the new house - or the funky decor, Masa just feels "fun." The bar itself is gorgeous, not to mention the cocktail menu, which had a number of inventive drinks I wanted to try, such as "Smoked Berry" and "Caramelized Apple" margaritas. The dining room is noisy and dim, let's be frank - I'm all for mood lighting but you've crossed a line when you have to pull out your cell phone to illuminate the menu to read it properly, and when we sat down to the table at first it seemed you had to yell over the defeaning noise level. (Later in the night it was no problem - whether this is because our ears had adjusted or the margaritas had worked their magic, I don't know.) And though I was crammed against the table next to me, I enjoyed being in the center of the place.
The menu is my type of food - elegant yet exciting; sure you have the quesadillas and shrimp appetizers of a Mexican restaurant, but everything is elevated and beautifully presented. I began with a sangria margarita (two drinks that I see as completely different concepts; therefore in my doubt and disgust, I had to try it, naturally) and we started with skillet roasted sea scallops and barbecue duck with sweet corn cream. It's seriously good. The scallops were cooked well and the sauce made you want to lick the plate. Also refreshing was the roasted acorn squash salad with grilled artichoke and chile lime and sour orange glaze - spicy, sweet, and sour over crunchy greens - it hit all the right notes.
Masa has a nice dinner selection, with dishes such as Negro Modelo braised pork shoulder, red snapper with smoked mussel salsa, and Jack Daniels glazed lamb shank. For my entree I chose the blackened rare ahi tuna steak with yellow mole, and I'll be honest: it was good. But not great. And gasp - dare I say it - I think the time I made rare tuna with yellow mole at home from scratch it was better. Yeah. I said it. Masa's tuna was cold in the center, and the thing about blackened fish is that you want it to be at least room temperature. Still a lovely pink, of course, but not tasting like it just came out of the ice box. With tuna tartare I embrace the chill, but with a dinner entree served on a heated plate, it's got to have a more even temperature.
The service wasn't great. Our server completely forgot a side order of red chile onion rings with ancho aioli, which came to the table completely cold after we'd finished the meal; he never returned to our table after we'd received our entrees to see how we were doing; and he described specials to us that the kitchen had run out of earlier that night - I really wanted that grilled mahi mahi with papaya mole and sweet potato mash with goat cheese and kale, he got my hopes up and then never delivered. Oh well. I guess what Masa taught me is that I might as well make it at home.