There’s a Japanese place attached to an apartment building in Midtown East that claims to make the best tempura in NYC. Just walking through the door will cost you a minimum of $250, and that’s before any drinks or add-ons. For many New Yorkers, Tempura Matsui is a bucket list restaurant. But instead of the lightest, crispiest, most perfect tempura in the city, what you’ll get is a succession of limp, not particularly exciting fried things delivered by servers who give off the energy of hyper-critical babysitters.
Tempura Matsui focuses hard on the food: there’s little else to the experience of eating here aside from the nonstop parade of courses and the judgy, hovering servers who will tell you in no uncertain terms how you’re allowed to consume each bite.
But the food isn’t very good. Many of the fried pieces are overly greasy and lack a satisfying crunch. The non-tempura items, like a palate cleanser salad served halfway through the meal, contain out-of-season ingredients (a raw tomato in February, for example) with little-to-no flavor.
It would be one thing if eating here was fun, at least, but the severe, judgy nature of service casts a somber shadow on the atmosphere. The staff will comment on things like whether or not you choose to check your coat, and how much of the final course you weren't able to finish. Whether you sit at the counter or in one of the booths off to the side of the tiny dining room, you’ll spend the better part of three hours squirming uncomfortably, hoping that you don’t get in trouble for putting the wrong condiment on your next bite. For a much better (and less expensive) experience, we recommend the tempura omakase at Secchu Yokota in the East Village.
The omakase here starts with two small appetizers, like sashimi and chawanmushi, then 14 courses of tempura that always start with fried shrimp heads—this will likely be the best bite of your meal. Many of the other tempura pieces are excessively greasy, and don’t have much flavor. Sandwiched in the middle of the tempura courses, you’ll get a palate cleanser of a salad that will likely also contain some out of season vegetables. Ours had a watery, flavorless tomato in the middle of winter. At the end, you get a choice of tendon, tencha, or tembara, but you’ll probably be too over the whole experience to enjoy this. Dessert is a piece of fruit, hopefully (but not guaranteed to be) in season. We got a slice of unripe melon.