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A ZEN MASTER

Sushi chef Crazy Kenny provides entertainment and great food

for The Brooklyn Paper

For 15 years, Master Wok has been one of the many Chinese restaurants on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. Six months ago, it became the only restaurant on Seventh that serves both Chinese and Japanese cuisine.

From the outside, with its curved red awning, Master Wok looks just as it always has, but upon entering, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the handsome eight-seat, wooden sushi bar along one wall.

The rest of the interior looks like fairly standard - though slightly upscale - Chinese restaurant decor. There are black lacquered wooden chairs with red vinyl seats, plain wooden tables with an artificial flower on each and large floral Chinese prints on the walls.

The sushi bar has a glass display area where the fish is kept on ice. Elegant black, white and red Chinese and Japanese dishes decorate the wall behind the bar.

Part of the allure of a sushi bar comes in watching the chef, and the sushi chef here, Crazy Kenny, is very entertaining. Handsome and young, he also has the draw of being funny, talkative and extremely self-assured.

"Tonight you will be eating 75 percent Japanese food, 25 percent Chinese," he told us as he prepared our meal. "You haven’t really tasted Japanese cooking until you’ve sampled mine - it’s the best."

The price range for the Chinese entrees is $7 to $11; for Japanese, whole dinners are $12 to $20 with a la carte selections, or rolls, from $3 to $10; and $1.50 to $2.25 for sushi and sashimi.

We knew we were in for a fine dining experience when Crazy Kenny delivered the smoked salmon salad to our table. Arranged in a beautiful starburst design, it consisted of leaves of romaine lettuce, orange sections, thin slices of perfectly ripe avocado, and smoked salmon topped with bright orange caviar.

"I smoke the fish myself, over tea leaves," Kenny told us. The result is a delicately smoky, pale-pink fish totally unlike traditional smoked salmon. Each flavor in the salad complemented the others and the combination of textures (crisp romaine, smooth avocado), flavors (sweet orange, salty caviar), and colors (green, pink, orange) made it a multiple treat for the senses.

Kenny’s tempura - the battered, deep-fried vegetable and seafood Japanese specialty - was the best I’ve ever had. The prawns were enormous yet sweet and tender (often the larger ones are less flavorful and tough), and the batter was light and fried to perfection. The vegetables included eggplant, red pepper, sweet potato, onion and broccoli and the plate was decorated with an attractive fan of fried noodles.

The peppered tuna was another winning dish. Thin slices of lightly sauteed tuna were arranged atop a mound of fresh steamed spinach served with sliced onions, tomatoes and thinly sliced radishes. This was served with a spicy mayonnaise-based sauce that included a hefty dose of Japanese chili peppers. The whole was a peppery layering of flavors with the main flavor of the tuna still coming through in all its delicacy.

Master Wok’s owner, Mei Fang Chang, was eager to share the two bestsellers from the Chinese menu: tangerine beef and chicken with fresh basil and leeks. Both earned their reputation honestly.

The tangerine beef was exceptionally crisp with a very pure tangerine flavor coming through in the sauce. (Even genuine tangerine can easily translate into a cloying lollipop kind of taste.) Thin slices of crisply fried tangerine rind were an intriguing addition to the dish.

A Szechuan specialty, the chicken with basil was satisfyingly tender and the vast quantity of basil, cooked with leeks and Chinese cabbage was a tasty bed upon which to serve it.

While my guest and I had attempted to pace ourselves, we were daunted by the arrival of a 2-foot-long wooden boat full of sushi - a beautiful sight but slightly overwhelming as it seemed enough raw fish to feed the whole neighborhood. There was red sea bass served in rolled-up slices between the fish head and tail; thin slices of fluke wrapped around chopped Japanese pickles and scallions; pale pink hunks of Spanish mackerel, sweet shrimp, butter-fish and tuna all beautifully arranged and garnished with lemon and orange slices, radish sprouts and chopped chives.

The high point of the sushi platter was Kenny’s crisp, spicy tuna roll - a juicy and piquant roll around a to-die-for slice of fresh tuna. All of the other sushi was tender, subtle and wonderful.

Dessert was a halved orange peel filled with orange wedges and topped with a maraschino cherry. Not great, but you don’t go to a place like Master Wok for the desserts. You go there to experience Crazy Kenny’s food and personality. And for good, solid Chinese and Japanese food.

 

Master Wok, 361 Seventh Ave. between 10th and 11th streets, is open for lunch and dinner. Master Wok accepts MasterCard, Visa and American Express. For delivery or more information, call (718) 499-2510.

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