Weston’s Masan serves up fresh, chic fare at bargain prices

BY ROCHELLE KOFF
RKOFF@MIAMIHERALD.COM

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss tiny Masan Asian Grill as a fast-food restaurant. With its counter service, casual decor and inexpensive prices (everything is under $10), it’s a surprise to find items like foie gras gyoza, tuna carpaccio pizza and steamed edamame with Hawaiian sea salt

But most diners come to this 35-seat Weston restaurant for the create-your-own stir-fry. It’s just $6.95 plus a small additional charge for your choice of protein (the most expensive is shrimp for $1.75).

No wonder tables are filled with families as well as retirees — these days, we all welcome fresh, well-prepared food at these prices. But Masan’s appeal isn’t just about the cost.

“This restaurant is yummy, yummy, yummy,” says my friend Laura, who has been coming regularly since Masan opened six months ago. “The food is like something you’d find at a fine restaurant, not at a little local stop.”

And that’s the intention of chef Chao Ma, who owns Masan with his wife, Xiu Deng. Ma grew up working in his family’s restaurant in Guangzhou, China, and earned a degree in culinary arts. His impressive South Florida resume includes the Mandarin Oriental’s Café Sambal in Miami, the Fontainebleau’s Hakkasan in Miami Beach and Makoto in Bal Harbour, where he was chef du cuisine.

Masan is a cheerful space with wood wainscoting and decorative mirrors.

If you order the stir-fry, the first step is picking your base —lo mein noodles, rice noodles, steamed white rice or brown rice. Then choose from at least 10 vegetables including bok choy, broccoli and edamame plus a daily special (Chinese eggplant on a recent visit). No one will stare if you request them all; just about everybody is loading up.

Next you pick chicken, beef, pork, tofu or shrimp. The pork was tender and well-seasoned, and the shrimp, while small, were perfectly cooked.

Finally, you choose from seven sauces including teriyaki, pad Thai (with a hint of tart tamarind) and Szechuan (if you want more heat, be sure to ask).

Staff is limited, and Ma and his wife do all the cooking, so the pace slows when it’s crowded, especially when customers are indecisive. (Study the menu before you get in line.) You can also order at your table. Dishes come out as soon as they’re ready, so entrees don’t always arrive at the same time.

While stir-fries star, there are plenty of “other goodies,” as Ma calls them. The delicious avocado egg rolls rate an “A,” the crisp shells filled with sun-dried tomatoes, onions and lots of creamy avocado, served with two dipping sauces — a kicky Sriracha tamarind and fragrant citrus cilantro.

The pan-fried foie gras dumplings have just a dollop of the duck-liver pâté, but the rich taste shines through. Mongolian grilled chicken wings are tender and smothered, as I was, in hoisin sauce.

We liked the Thai chicken salad (with roasted corn), but weren’t wild about the grilled Vietnamese stuffed grape leaves. Filled with beef and spiked with lemon grass, they weren’t appealing.

The delicious tuna pizza was the last dish to arrive, but worth the wait. The thin, crisp, flatbread-like crust was topped with a refreshing array of tuna carpaccio, pickled jalapeños, chopped Early Girl tomatoes, sliced red onions and a spicy wasabi aioli.

If you need something sweet, grab chocolate chip or almond cookies on your way out.

With its bargain prices, quality ingredients and intriguing menu, Mason is the kind of neighborhood restaurant we’d love to have down the street.

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