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Jan 23, 2012 09:26 AM

15 East: A truly impressive all-out meal from start to finish

As usual, full review with photos (AND VIDEO!!) on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

I know 15 East got plenty of love on the recent best sushi thread, but I want to reiterate that what makes 15 East special goes beyond just sushi. I've written about 15 East before, but this meal was a much more complete experience than previous meals. I asked the chef to give us his best and was wowed all the way through.

While we were waiting for our seats, they were nice enough to offer us some complimentary champagne. One of the things about the second seating is that the previous customers may linger.

The meal started off with an amuse of belly button mushroom with chrysanthemum leaf.

SLOW POACHED OCTOPUS with sea salt, ANKIMO (MONKFISH LIVER) with spicy radish and sake vinaigrette
The first course of the chef's omakase was the signature slow-poached octopus. It had a rich umami flavor and was wonderfully tender. Ankimo is one of my favorite things and this was quite good.

Maine uni is actually my least favorite of the unis one usually gets in restaurants, but this one did taste fresher and creamier than normal, although it's unclear whether I'm affected visually by seeing it in the shell.

ISE EBI SASHIMI Although this was from San Diego, the chef did say that this was the same clawless spiny lobster variety as the famously expensive Ise ebi. The flesh was delicious and sweet, and the knife work was excellent, with slices of perfect size and texture.

)The large fish slices were tasty and the spot prawn was very sweet, but the real winners here for me were the seared gruntfish, which had a lovely smokey flavor from the searing even though it was cold, and the orange clam, which came from one of the largest pieces of such a clam I have seen at a sushi bar.

The soba here is lovely, with a simple traditional cold soba preparation. The key here is the salmon roe, which come in fresh and whole and get marinated in house. This makes them less salty and more delicate in texture. Each egg popped with flavor under the delicate skin.

ISE EBI TEMPURA with smoked sea salt and sudachi
Well-fried, tender lobster meat, heightened with extra umami from the smoked salt and citrus.

We weren't sure on the sake, and they were nice enough to bring a tasting of three for us to choose. We ended up with the seasonal URAKASUMI HIYAOROSHI sake, which was the smoothest sake I've ever had.

I found this rather unique, as I've not had plum on sushi before, but it works here with the robust fish.
One of my favorite pieces here. The searing definitely makes it, and I prefer it to the kinmedai I had at Masa.
While lean tuna is what one gets when one orders "just" tuna (maguro), I find the akami both here and at Masa to be leaner, redder, and more robust in taste than tuna I've had elsewhere.
I prefer chutoro to otoro when it comes to sushi, and this was perfect deliciousness suitable for a single bite as the fat melts with each chew.
A very interesting texture as the fish itself is firm yet so thin. Almost like how perfectly cooked shrimp would be.
I'm usually not big on things like octopus and squid, but this was very tender without needing scoring, and brightened up by the citrus.
I first had these at Kurumazushi, and these things are just sooo sweet. Sweeter (not in a cloying way) than any other sweet shrimp.
Santa Barbara uni is larger and creamier and my favorite of North American uni.
But my favorite in NYC is the Hokkaido uni here, with a dirtier, brinier taste of ocean.
Warm, rich, and full of fish flavor without too much reliance on the sweeter sauce.
Our meal had ended with the anago, but I had to get this egg custard and specifically requested it. A traditional preparation not available everywhere (though they do have it at Yasuda, it's not as good as this version), it's made with egg, minced shrimp, and mountain yam. The key is the technique in cooking both sides, creating a cake that is airy yet more robust than a sponge cake.

One last course made from our lobster. The hot soup was well flavored with miso and the head and tomalley of our lobster.

The chef gifted us this assorted dessert plate, and I really enjoyed the soba tea ice cream, which had that rich, slightly bitter flavor, yet rounded out by the creaminess. I think 15 East has some of the best desserts for a Japanese restaurant in NYC.

15 East is my favorite Japanese restaurant in NYC, with Kajitsu a very close second. The sushi is first rate, prepared by someone who actually apprenticed his years in Japan. The rice is among the best in NYC (different, but comparable in many ways to Yasuda), and the traditional Japanese cooked items such as tempura and soba are terrific.

I also believe that 15 East offers great value. While the Ise lobster is a more expensive delicacy ($120 per lobster, comprising 3 courses: sashimi, tempura, soup), the base omakase is $140 and well worth it. Most importantly, it fills you up. While many people claim to spend less at some of the top sushi restaurants in NYC, they do not eat like I do, and I've never gotten out of a place like Yasuda satisfied for less than $250.

15 East
15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Ah, great to see this. That was indeed an epic meal of epic proportions. I think 15 East, along with Jungsik, were my two favorite meals of 2011. Seriously amazing and out of this world.

    1. Great review of my favorite sushi place Fooder. I normally have not gotten out of 15 east for less than a $200 tab, but that includes sushi so most often it is $250. I have not had the ise ebi there but I hope they have it there this week. I assume you saw it still moving. I'm suprised that he served botan ebi and shiro ebi, when it is the season for amaebi, which i love. Everytime I go to 15 East, I say " I can't believe how great this place is". I eat there about once a month and have good sushi in between visits but it is amazing how good 15 East is. His anago is fantastic. You were lucky that he had sayori and sanma I asked for that last visit and they weren't available. I'm hoping they have chawanmushi when I go next. As far as the tuna goes, each piece is special in its own way. I like the part that the chef calls "the triangle" it melts in your mouth. I also like the cheek and the tail when available at 15 east.
      I love the "slow poached' octopus, but I have a question for the experts i.e. Silverjay et al, Japanese people that I know say octopus should not be soft, only takoyaki , do you want it soft. They say they like it tough and chewy. What I want to know is this octopus at 15 East, the way Japanese sushi/sashimi aficionados prefer their octopus to be?

      7 Replies
      1. re: foodwhisperer

        Hah, that lobster was more than moving. You should check out the video if you're not squeamish. :P

        1. re: foodwhisperer

          You usually want it to have a bit of "hagotae" (歯ごたえ) which kind of means something like "toothiness", but the dish is simmered (煮物 ), so it really is meant to be soft. His version is definitely softer than I've had in Japan (he pounds the shit out of it and tenderized it well), but I think it is wonderful. And my wife, who's from Tokyo, enjoyed it...I like 15 East a lot, but his nigiri are REALLY tiny. Tiniest I've had anywhere. And wow, $120 for Ise ebi is crazy expensive. That's 3 times the cost I just paid in Japan.

          1. re: Silverjay

            I've actually had softer at one of the Sushiden branches inside a department store in Ginza. I find the size of his nigiri fine, my wife thinks its too big, so she always asks Masato san to make her nigiri smaller.

            1. re: Ricky

              We both felt that the servings, particularly the cuts of fish, were small and I believe CHer Kobetobiko also had a similar opinion. But this was a few years ago now since we last ate there. I just looked at photos on Yelp and the size looks more in line with what I'm used to elsewhere.

            2. re: Silverjay

              His master who trained him, makes pieces of sushi about double the size of Shimizu-san.
              I enjoy the octopus too, but there is truth to the fact that usually it has more hagotae. I have had nigiri in Kyubei in Ginza, but you got 2 pieces in each order.

            3. re: foodwhisperer


              I am thinking of going to 15 east for a light lunch (going on an eating tour in NYC). I reserved at the bar and am thinking of getting the octopus as well as the sushi omakase. Have you been for lunch as you frequent there? or just dinner? Does the fish on the nigiri change frequently or are there ones I can expect ??

              1. re: kyra2224

                The octopus will come with the omakase, you can ask for it before you get served.I have only eaten dinner there. But about a year ago the chef told me the lunch is a more limited offering. So i'm not sure what you will get for lunch . The head sushi chef Masa, will be in Japan for another week. But I'm sure the quality of the fish will be very good anyway. They usually have several different cuts of tuna, try them all, don;t just ask for otoro. They will also have seasonal fish from Japan, and possibly different types of uni. Enjoy

            4. I agree. I've only been a couple of times for lunch but that $140 omakase offers incredible value. 30 pieces of sushi + a negitoro roll generally runs me 200+ elsewhere.

              1. I plan to go sometime soon (at the sushi bar). Excluding the Japanese lobster, did everything you listed come as part of the omakase at base $140? Do you just talk to the chef about your price point?

                4 Replies
                1. re: deepfry7

                  Except for the dessert which was comped, everything was included in the $140 omakase, which changes from time to time, but is usually 3 small dishes, sashimi plate, and sushi. For almost all the top tier sushi restaurants in NYC, you can just tell the chef your price point for omakase and they will serve you accordingly.

                  1. re: fooder

                    I have never discussed price with any sushi chef, i think they take offense at that. If you want several pieces of expensive fish like Otoro , hokkaido uni, etc your tab will be higher. If you have omakase at Kanoyama, even though he has a set price on the menu, he itemizes each piece on your check and you end up paying double what is on the menu. I do not question it, because the sushi chef views this as questioning his integrity causing him to lose face. Not a good thing to do, if you intend on going back.That is my opinion about that and is based on my close relationships with Japanese people. You may have different experience.

                    1. re: foodwhisperer

                      If the customer has a budget, the chef can't just choose to go over it out of ego. Especially as a proprietor in NYC. Usually, omakase comes at a base price, and as long as you're above the base price, I find it perfectly reasonable to say that I want more than the base omakase, but not past a certain amount.

                      At places like Yasuda and Sushi Seki, depending on your progess, they will warn you when your base omakase is about to finish, and you can add more pieces of sushi (just say "keep them coming" or a certain dollar amount more).

                      I used to frequently eat over 30 pieces of sushi at Yasuda, and he would overcharge me because he couldn't keep track and sometimes charge me for my neighbor's piece.

                      Foodwhisperer, the "set price" on the menu that you are referring to is most likely the base price I'm talking about, which is more of a minimum.

                      1. re: foodwhisperer

                        Unless you are saying you have seen sushi chefs upset or offended, I would think you are deducing or assuming too much.

                        Even if you wanted otoro, hokkaido uni, etc., if you are getting omakase you wouldn't know that would be what you are getting. Omakase isn't simply throwing out all the high end items that are at the sushi chefs disposal. It's crafting a meal, and that leaves room for a mix of high and low end, as well as number of pieces. Plus, I've been to Japanese restaurants where they have tiered omakase pricings, and where they ask how much or how many pieces when they take your order.

                  2. I am so pleased to hear that 15 East is as good as ever. I have never walked out of there anything less than blissful. I think he blows Yasuda away.