Tucked away in a secluded alley off the main downtown drag, Mas is not a place that one just happens to stumble upon. But seek it out, you definitely should.
Named one of the New York Times’ “favorite 50 restaurants” in 2022 and a semi-finalist for “Best Chef Northwest and Pacific” in 2023, this $195 per person, tasting menu-only restaurant is all of 16 seats.
The best seats, of course, are at the chef’s counter, where I dined earlier this month as a guest of Travel Southern Oregon. It’s where you can watch Chef Josh Dorcak and his small staff prepare each course with precision.
It’s rather astonishing to realize that the galley kitchen behind the counter, about the size of one in a modest home, is all they use, too. There’s all of one or two induction burners, a combi oven that can cook with steam or hot air, and a fish aging refrigerator off to the side. That’s pretty much it.
Dorcak describes his menu as “Cascadian cuisine” for its hyper seasonality and locality. It’s certainly by way of Japan for all the Japanese ingredients and techniques used. In fact, a trip to Japan was what inspired his vision for the restaurant in the first place.
Growing up in Cupertino, CA, he loved watching the original “Iron Chef” on TV and eating with family and friends at local Japanese restaurants. After attending the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, he moved to Ashland to work at the now-shuttered Amuse restaurant. A trip to Tokyo opened his eyes to the idea of nano restaurants, thimble-sized establishments run by just one or two chefs.
When he returned to Ashland, he began his quest to to create his own by first starting Mas as a pop-up in the basement of the very fine Mix bakery downtown. Eventually, he took over a former hair salon for his permanent location. In 2021, he added to that by opening the a la carte Nama next-door.
Of course, you can ask him all this yourself, if you’re perched at the counter, as he works in front of you alongside Chef de Cuisine Evan Bolling, and one or two other cooks.
Mas is an intimate experience that begins, as it always does, with a warm, welcoming earthenware cup of grilled kombu and katsuobushi dashi made with a little clarified butter to add a thin veil of richness to this light, umami broth.