Matsu: 427 Westport Rd. – CLOSED

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Dec 102008

A few days ago, The Library notified me that there was a book on hold for me. I had come across a review for Asian Dining Rules by Steven Shaw a while back but had frankly forgotten about putting a hold on it. In a nutshell, Shaw explains how to order and eat various Asian cuisines at restaurants. Although not perfect, I love the way the author rebukes American culture for the stereotypes and misinformation about Asian foods.

For instance, he says it is not just silly but insulting that doctors recommend pregnant women avoid sushi. He also says there is no proof whatsoever that MSG has significant adverse effects. He chastises the media for periodic horror stories about the unhealthiness of Chinese food. Aahh, I love me some controversy!

But this ain’t a book review blog. So what’s my point? Well, after reading the Japanese chapter this weekend, I was hungry for some sushi!

I’ve eaten at Matsu several times before, as well as other places like Domo, Friends, Nara, Juns and whatever that place is in Town Center. I think they are all pretty good, I just happened to choose Matsu because it was the closest place at the time.

After reading Asian Dining Rules, I was excited to partake, but still didn’t follow Shaw’s recommendations to the letter. But I will select, condense, misremember and pass them along to you here:

1. Always eat at the sushi bar. You’ll get better stuff if the chef is right in front of you. Pieces of fish have better and worse parts so guess who’s gonna get the ass end of the tuna? Right, the dudes way across the dining room drinking beer. Plus, Shaw contends that sushi is best from chef’s hand to your mouth with as little time as possible in between.

2. Order the combo platters/chef specials. Allowing the chef to decide is always the best way. This will save you some serious dough and you’ll also get the best, freshest fish.

3. Talk to the sushi chef. This is a recurring theme in the book. If you are non-Asian it really helps to get to know the owners and employees. No one knows the good stuff better than the guy touching it all day.

4. Go during off hours. This will give you time to ask questions of staff and the food will be better because they are not rushed.

These are not exclusive to Japanese/Sushi establishments, though he does offer another whole procedure for getting the very best meal at the sushi bar, promising that it would be exorbitantly expensive.

When I walked in and was seated, I passed the sushi bar only to notice a piece of sushi and a half sliced maki roll on the cutting board: no sushi chef in sight. Did he go take a leak? Did he pause for a cigarette? Having recently read that sushi should be eaten as quickly as possible, I started to get a bad feeling. Fortunately the chef returned as we sat down at our table. For a minute there I was worried that our server doubled as sushi chef.

On my meager salary, I went for the Chef’s lunch special, a good deal but still a chunk of change at $14.50. For those insane people among you who do not like sushi (and vegetarians I suppose) there are a few interesting options in the $9-10 range. The donburi in particular looked very good, and Matsu had a few different kinds.

The miso soup is great. It’s much darker and richer than that at other Japanese restaurants. They have the usual assortment of intriguing starters such as daikon pickles, edamame, seaweed salad and even tempura alligator. The salad had a nice tangy dressing, but was virtually drenched in the stuff. The flavor was strong enough that they should have used half as much.

Unfortunately the sushi looked a little limp and sad when it arrived. It tasted good and was well cut but I suspected it was not the freshest available. The pieces were also on the small side. My piece of tuna had what looked like a little soy sauce fingerprint on it. That what I get for not sitting at the sushi bar, see?

The decor here is kinda funny, sort of like what a Japanese restaurant looked like 20 years ago. Various parts of the interior are meant to resemble pagodas. . There is a wooden crisscross frame across the entire ceiling, just below a bunch of exposed duct work and some painted tin. Some tables had funny tray stands carved out of tree trunks decorated with monkeys or zebras.

Our server was very friendly and did a nice job. He was way too apologetic about interrupting us to pour tea or clear dishes. Dude, just don’t say anything and pour the damn tea. A large white man started wandering around about halfway through our meal. He was puttering in the kitchen, the dishwashing area, and periodically perched himself at the sushi bar. I got the feeling he was the owner, since was wasn’t really doing anything productive.

After this visit, I find that I prefer most other sushi restaurants in the metro, although the Westport location is convenient. I know sushi has come up in previous posts, so where do you all like to go for really good sushi? Or quick, affordable sushi?

For more info on Matsu check out this a very good Yelp review.

Read more:

Matsu Japanese on Urbanspoon


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  13 Responses to “Matsu: 427 Westport Rd. – CLOSED”

  1. It’s not the msg in sushi that is bad for pregnant women, it’s the fact that the food is raw.

    Pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat undercooked eggs, either. Or too much tuna, or anything that might damage the baby.

    I have the “what to eat when you’re expecting” book, and I swear, in one chapter it tells you not to eat something, and then two chapters later it tells you how wonderful it is. Fucked up if you ask me.

  2. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat good, stinky cheese either. That totally sucks.

    In the book, the MSG and sushi issues were 2 different rants. The problem according to the author is that sushi gets lumped in with all raw seafood, when oysters and clams account for 85% of all raw seafood illnesses. This puts sushi in a safer realm than most fully cooked things we eat. Plus women in Japan have been doing it for centuries.

    All that being said, I have no idea how true any of it is :)

  3. this is my least favorite place for sushi in town. i much prefer domo – even though it takes a long time to get your order. nara’s sushi is terrible, too. honestly, sakura’s sushi train is pretty good sushi at a really good price.

    my favorite, favorite is Wa in lawrence.

  4. I’ve never been to Domo, but we went to Nara once on a gift card friends gave us for our wedding, and we plan to return. It was delicious! We still have dollars left on that gift card, so we need to get back down there.

    We also like Sakura, but Leo tends to shy away from it because of the types of sushi available…having fried stuff and things stuffed with mayo and cream cheese just rolling past ya like that can be hard to pass up! I’m fine with it, though. :D

    Friends is our fave place in town, even though we haven’t been able to get there as often as we used to (we used to about twice a month – at least – prior to the wedding and the home construction…you know, when we still had money), so we don’t get the kind of service we like. Its still our first choice, though, even on non-dollar sushi nights!

    I also like to splurge on the “place in Town Center” now and then. It’s called Sushi House, and although it can be pricey, unlike Matsu, its totally worth it.

    Leo took me to Matsu for our 2nd date. It was ok, but the next time we went there put the nail in their coffin for us. We don’t like the place. The prices are too high for the quality they provide. There are waaaay better choices that are too close by to have to go there, so we just don’t!

  5. Are Matsu & Domo owned by the same people? The menus look the same, and I feel like I've heard that they are, but I've always had better experiences at Domo.

  6. Friends on 39th. Great sushi.

  7. I believe Shaw used to write a blog (actually a precursor to blogs– this was a long time ago) called Fat Guy. Even though I was like 15 at the time and knew nothing about the New York dining scene, I’d read his Fat Guy reviews all the time. He’s a great writer.

  8. I’m also a big fan of Friends. I’ve had some spotty service, but the sushi has always been great.

  9. To answer Erin’s question (Dec 10th), Yes. Domo and Matsu’s are owned by the same people (person) in the form of “MamaSan”. Rodger – with whom you mention in your review is the husband and they’ve made a huge success (if you ask this author) in keeping their doors open in the Westport scene for well over the last decade.

    The missing sushi chef – though you might think was on a smoke break (or otherwise) was more than likely running a ‘fried roll’ to the kitchen – and had a few minutes to devote to this obligation.

    As a menu designer, I have worked in and for a number of restaurants in Kansas City (Jun’s, Kabuki and Matsu included). My favorite (and this is a biased opinion) is the Kabuki in Crown Center. Ted Hamada – who took ownership roughly three years ago has the standards this author seeks in a sushi restaurant. Ted’s laid back demeanor, lists of regulars and ‘hotties’ on the floor, along with some of the most consistent sushi chefs in town are well worth the visit.

    Koji and Fumi (the Fuminator) at Nara are by far the best duo you’re going to find. Master’s of their craft, (and Japanese to boot) fresh fish and fun are what you should expect from sitting at their counter.

  10. Recently tried Kato on Barry Road, a part of town I almost never venture, on a friend’s recommendation. It was really great. Like Sushi House, but it’s about the most expensive place anywhere. Still everything is usually high quality and fresh. It’s not cheap to ship stuff to Kansas City and discard when something gets a bit old.

  11. I also have bad experiences at Matsu, and won’t eat there again. I live in Brookside so I have gone to Domo a couple times out of convenience, and while I find it better than Matsu, I’m not that crazy over it.

    I like Sushi House, Wa, and even Kona Grill. I think I’ve had my best sushi around at Sushi House. I think I like Jun, but I haven’t been there in a long time – I remember thinking the dining room felt stuffy.

  12. “omakase” I believe is the Japanese word that means you are in the chef’s hands.

  13. […] in unusual small plates, noodles and okonomi yaki, among other things. The previous tenant, Matsu Sushi, had not aged well by the time it closed a couple years back. Happily, the space (half of what […]