15 E 15th Street, New York City, Feb 23 2013, http://www.15eastrestaurant.com
After Katz’s earlier in the day, we headed to Pouring Ribbons for a few drinks before dinner. Our first dinner would be at 15 East, the beautiful restaurant of Masato Shimizu, who wins my award for most personable and hilarious sushi master ever. The highlight of the meal was interacting with Masa, as well as the party of 3 next to us at the sushi bar.
Background: 15 East is one of the consensus top tier sushi restaurants in Manhattan. It was opened by Masato Shimizu 6 years ago, and Masato (Masa for short) came from Japan. Regarding reservations, you can book online through Open Table, but in order to sit at the sushi bar (which I’d highly recommend), you must call and request by phone.
The awesome Masato Shimizu.
As an aside on sushi in NYC, Masa (Run by Masa Takayama) in Times Square is the only Michelin 3 star (BTW, I’m not a big fan of the Michelin Guide) sushi restaurant in NYC, but this has more to do with extravagant luxury ingredients used in every course than anything else. A meal at Masa will run you $400-1000/pp, while Omakase at 15 East is $65-95 and a full Kaiseki meal is $120.
15 East is a lovely space; after entering you may go left to sit in the main dining room, or right to sit at the sushi bar. This separation of the two areas is great as it offers an intimate option for couples in the main room, and a more interactive environment at the sushi counter.
Sitting down at the sushi bar, we decided on the sashimi and sushi Omakase. Having had a drink already at Pouring Ribbons, we chose a roasted tea to go with dinner. Much like at Raku in Las Vegas, this was a roasted and fermented tea, and paired great with the fish because of its heavy body, bite and moderately tannic finish. It was also replaced with fresh glasses 3 times during the meal, even when we had yet to finish it. This was a nice touch, as the tea was always hot.
To start we had an amuse bouche of pickled daikon radish (not pictured). Simple, clean and palate cleansing.
The first course was slow poached octopus with sea salt. Buttery, good texture and mild in flavor. A solid octopus dish.
Left: Clockwise starting with bluefin tuna at 6 o’clock: Bluefin tuna, arctic char, red snapper, amberjack, gruntfish (japanese bass), shrimp, otoro (tuna belly). Right: Close-up of bluefin otoro. Looks like Kobe beef!
The sashimi course was composed of two pieces of six fish, plus one ebi (shrimp). The highlights were the arctic char, gruntfish and bluefin otoro. Surprisingly, our consensus #1 was the arctic char, which had great texture and flavour. The gruntfish was seared with a blowtorch, giving it great textural contrast between outer seared portion and the soft, inner flesh. The otoro was extremely marbled, with the appearance and texture of Kobe beef. The others were all above average, but again did not blow us away. We will have to start seeking out more arctic char. At this point in the meal, I was a bit underwhelmed, but things would improve from here.
Left: Cherry salmon Right: Cooked shrimp head
The sushi course began with a Japanese sea perch (not pictured), cherry salmon and the cooked shrimp head from our earlier sashimi course. The sea perch was excellent, and the cherry salmon was the first “wow” bite of the meal. It has a supple texture and is much lighter/less oily than any regular salmon. According to Masa, cherry salmon only grows to about 18 inches in length, so is completely different than other salmon. Truly a delicacy. We ordered a second piece after our set nigiri course was finished. The ebi head was very good. Mmmm, tasty brains.
Left: Golden snapper Right: Chu-toro (tuna back)
This was my first time with golden snapper, and it is much softer and creamier in texture than it’s red cousin. Chu-toro, which comes from the back of the tuna, is a less expensive and less fatty version of otoro. This chu-toro was still more marbled than most, and tasted great.
Left: Santa Barbara Uni Middle: Hokkaido Uni Right: Anago (eel)
There were three types of uni available on this night, Santa Barbara, Maine, and Hokkaido. The Californian sea urchin was fresh, with typical ocean and salt flavors. Camille is not super fond of uni, which is understandable given its polarizing texture and flavour profile. However, the Hokkaido uni was a revelation for us both, as it is much milder, with a creamier texture and more delicate flavors than the North American varieties. It is also much more expensive, unfortunately. For those out there who dislike uni, you should definitely give Japanese uni a chance. It is exquisite. For the last bite of the tasting, I had anago (saltwater eel), which was good, but not quite to the standard of Kabuto. Camille had salmon roe, which had great pop and salinity.
At this time we were quite full, and Chef Masa was in a great mood. It was the end of the night on Saturday, meaning another week of hard work complete. One girl in the party of three next to us knew Masa well and was a frequent guest, so Masa pulled out all the stops by making ridiculous hand rolls with scallop + uni, monkfish liver + uni, and an ultimate roll of scallop + monkfish liver + uni. These were massive hand rolls and probably were worth about $30-50 each, but he was giving them away. We had complimentary otoro hand rolls with a full handful of otoro in each. They were awesome. He also made this disgusting looking but awesome tasting concoction of scallop, uni and quail egg mixed together on a plate and served over rice. He said it was what his grandpa made for him as a child. That’s quite the childhood.
At one point in the hand roll making, Masa, broke a piece of seaweed and said “Ah, fuck” in a hilarious way that cracked the five of us up. He has a great personality and was very interactive with everyone. He also makes a point to educate his guests, which is much appreciated.
Left: Mineoka tofu Right: Buckwheat honey, matcha green tea and maple sorbet
Though we were too full for dessert, we were comped two desserts by the chef. Both were delicious, light and refreshing. The Mineoka tofu is a house made cow’s milk tofu set in kuromitsu syrup, it was creamy and the kuromitsu had deep, buckwheat honey like flavour. The trio of sorbets were all potently infused with their respective flavours.
Service: The service at 15 East is professional, courteous and efficient. Water and tea were refilled constantly, drips and drops wiped up promptly, and overall was unobtrusive once the meal began. After initially taking our order, there was really very little interaction with the service staff, as Masa himself chatted with us regularly.
15 East was a great experience, primarily because of Chef Masa. The sashimi course could have been a bit better, but the sushi course was fantastic. My biggest recommendation would be a late reservation on a Saturday night, as Chef Masa gets hilarious and generous when he knows the weekend is coming.