After an initial nod to French farmhouses in the dark, rough hewn wood in front of the bar, a sophisticated urbanity decimates any lingering 'country' notes at Mas. Odd, considering this West Village restaurant describes itself as Country French. Instead, minimalist design rules the day: slate grey walls lined with a single slim, horizontal mirror; white leather banquets and white ceiling; a big glass cube wine cellar in the center of the room; gorgeous dark wood floors. Though exceptionally well lit, Mas didn't fare as well on the food and wine fronts.
We drank by the glass, my companion starting with reds. First he ordered a Corsican Patrimonio from Antoine Arena which had a very big, overripe and gamey nose but no body. It smelled curiously Spanish, which meant that it was leagues more interesting than the Faugeres he tried next: this rather rang with tinny emptiness. He was going to give the Bandol, Dom. Tempier ($17/glass?) a run, but after the waitress poured him a taste, he sipped my 2002 Txacoli and joined me. The Txacoli may be old hat by now, but I love its dependable structure and light. I'd tried a 2001 Alsatian Riesling d'Epfig first, but it seemed to me a lonesome wine that shirked towards something & fell short.
Soon, Prince Edward Island mussel amuses arrived in paprika sauce with sunflower cress. They looked sexy, but tasted and felt a bit too much like slimy bilge. Not a happy amuse. The Big Eye Tuna appetizer was my favorite dish of the evening, in a beurre noisette with fried shallots and minced chives. A gorgeous fish that played really well in its vinegar it especially stood out against the other appetizer we shared: Portuguese sardines on a parmesean toast with carmelized onions and a pine nut dressing. Sounds good, but had none of the crunch, flavor or resilience of the sardines one finds in say Portugal. Mushy fishies threw no spark, so a bite sufficed.
We shared two mains: wild ramp-wrapped sliced lamb loin again looked fabulous, and its meat was surprisingly delicate and tasty. The dish's airy mashed potatoes had been plated in a comma-shaped dollop; references to text in food always please me. Yet an ineffable stodginess suffused this dish: I had the sense that Harriet Nelson whipped it up. Oddly, the plate's most delicious component - two quarters of artichoke heart (a la Barigoule) on the side - did indeed hark to Provence, making me melancholy that they were not the dish instead. Distilled, crystalized artichoke flavor perfectly textured by its cooking method gave me an intimation of what I wanted - affirmation for my fierce loyalty to French country food - but of it the slightest hint. Our other main left me with a more extreme version of the same impression. A "pigeon baked in a clay pot" comprised of two wee wings and a couple slices of breast included hunks of clay on the plate, which the waiter cautioned me not to eat. Did Mas need to prove that they had used the ancient, authentic technique about which Paula Wolfert has written so well? Could they not have kept the mud to themselves? I thought the bird perfectly vile and hardly touched it, but it came with a too too tiny slice of a stupendously delicious Bordelaise duck tart, which would have made me content on its own. Alas. When asked recently what sort of new restaurant New York needs, my first thought was a Provincial French farmhouse place. Mas is not that, Mas is less.