At long last, there’s a burlesque hall right down the street from the United Nations. I just go there for the food, of course.
“From live music and always plenty of room to dance, to Dinner Theatre featuring Coney Island Side Shows, Burlesque and Soulful Singing, our entertainment is always eclectic and fun!” boasts the venue’s Web site. Masks decorate the wall of the Masq Restaurant and Lounge. You can put one on, if that’s your thing.
But Masq, on East 49th Street between First and Second Avenues, is also a restaurant with great depth. By that I mean that you can walk through the restaurant for a long time before you hit the back wall.
The trip is worth the detour, especially if you need a break during the General Assembly opening session, starting Sept. 24.
Entering the establishment from the street, you find yourself in a front room with an attractive and comfortable U-shaped bar. Stepping toward the rear, you enter a narrow dining room, and then step farther into a second L-shaped dining room with a large and playful mural on the wall. Finally, you walk into a third room decked out with easy chairs, equipped more for a private party or a community meeting than lunch or dinner.
Complementing the mask theme, there’s a naughty gaslight-era feel to the place. The color scheme is bordello burgundy, and mustard Mardi Gras beads and lighthearted art hang on the walls, most notably that large mural in the second dining room, which a waiter told us was painted in situ by an employee. It portrays five scantily dressed women relaxing among wild animals.
Whatever. The place opened as a bar in January and began functioning as a full-fledged restaurant last spring. Its generous cocktails and festive atmosphere seem to be drawing in locals in the evenings, but considering its skilled kitchen, you should check it out for lunch or dinner. Don’t delay. The times I’ve visited, there haven’t been that many customers around, suggesting Masq might not make it through the winter.
The menu is eclectic, with steaks, crab cakes and sliders appearing alongside excellent flat-bread pizzas, quesadillas, panini, big salads and sandwiches as well as cured meat and cheese platters meant for sharing. The plates are large, attractive and full of flavor, and the wait staff and bartenders are eager to please.
Prices are moderate for the neighborhood, and servings ample enough to make you think you’re getting a bargain. Mains are in the $10 to $15 range at lunch, and $2 to $3 higher at dinner.
There are also regular daily specials, notably jambalaya ($16.95 at lunch) with a good red-pepper bite that is topped, unconventionally, with a sizable chunk of melting goat cheese. Downing the entire bowl of the paella-like stew, with its jumbo shrimps and chunks of chicken and sausage, left me stuffed and happy.
My lunch guests and I also enjoyed a gorgeous grilled-prosciutto panini with fig jam, melted goat cheese and thin slices of green apple ($14 at lunch), a study in contrasting flavors and textures. The sandwich was accompanied by a salad of mesclun with slivers of cucumber, cherry tomato and carrot. Sharing the plate was a heap of crunchy potato chips; the house’s oversize $6 side orders of Cajun and sweet potato chips are justifiably popular, whether consumed with a main dish or just drinks.
Another attractive choice is the shrimp quesadilla ($14 at lunch), starring a toasted-flour tortilla stuffed with melted cheese, tomatoes and slices of shrimp. Scoops of fresh tomato salsa, sour cream and guacamole come on the side.
The menu lists five salad plates. The one we sampled, sesame chicken ($12 at lunch), centers on a mound of chicken chunks, fried wonton noodles, shredded Napa cabbage, tiny mandarin orange segments and slivers of red, yellow and green pepper. The miso-ginger vinaigrette could have been more assertive.
Coffee is way above the restaurant average and comes with heavy cream, if you like. Desserts ($7 to $8) include a flourless chocolate cake and fresh berries and cream.
The ample wine list offers glasses for $8 to $15 and bottles for $24 to $45. Happy hour stretches from 4 to 7, Monday through Friday.
The house martini seems to have developed a particularly strong following. Arousing memories of James Bond, our waiter asked if we preferred ours shaken or stirred.
Masq Restaurant and Lounge is open Monday through Saturday, noon until 2 a.m. It is located at 306 E. 49th Street between First and Second Avenues; (212) 644-8294.