Earlier this year when David Gelb gave an interview to the New York Times about his now cult-classic Jiro Dreams of Sushi, he mentioned that his two favorite restaurants in New York were Sushi Yasuda and 15 East. Just as I applauded his quest to introduce more people to traditional sushi, I also lamented not booking 15 East sooner. Sure enough, for the next few weeks a seat at the bar was arguably harder to get than Jay-Z concert tickets. If there was a Stubhub for dinner reservations… (I shall stop before enterprising people start getting ideas)
So I started calling regularly looking to get a seat. One week I thought I got lucky, only to be told that there were seats at the bar because Chef Masato was on vacation. Diners clearly only want to be served by the master himself. Finally, right before the Jiro flick hit DVDs, I got myself a seat at the bar.
In addition to the shining endorsement by Gelb, there was another reason I had high hopes for 15 East. This location used to be Tocqueville, and was only turned into a Japanese restaurant when Chef Marco Moreira moved his French restaurant a few doors down 15th Street. I absolutely loved Tocqueville, giving it one of the highest ratings ever given on this website. A collaboration by Chef Moreira and Masato-san seemed to be a winning combination.
The sushi bar at 15 East seats 7, and is the focal point of the restaurant. The location is a bit odd, since it’s close to the door and often interrupted by arriving diners. A short coming attributed to the fact that it was obviously re-purposed from its drink-serving duty in the days of Tocqueville.
Luckily as the meal begin and you focus on Masato-san, you no longer pay attention to the less than idea surroundings. Sit down, inform them that you would like an omakase, and let the feast begin.
Unlike other restaurants where the bar is served by a team of chefs, at 15 East Chef-Masato handles all the patrons at the bar. His team of understudies are tasked with making sushi for the dining room. While I appreciate getting the nigiri made by the master himself, the fact he has to serve 8 people takes away from the interaction.
The omakase started with Chef Masato’s signature dish, broiled octopus massaged to tender perfection. The course begins with great theater, when he removes the entire octopus, places it on the counter in everyone’s view, and carefully removes a tentacle onto the chopping block. Book an early dinner if you want to witness this scene while all 8 legs at intact. The taste is absolutely divine, and the market tomato soup (very Tocqueville like) was a great complement to the tako.
Next up came the sashimi. The standouts of the dish were the sweet shrimp, and the combination of the squid with baby tomatoes and “sea grape”. There was a whole lot of textures going on. I’m not going to rave about freshness, that’s a given. Here at 15 East it’s about texture and flavor, which were spot on.
Next up was a cooked course, which features a delicious conch soup, and a grilled sweet fish. The fish was tasty, with meat that really tasted sweet. Though it wasn’t easy to get the meat off the bones without making a mess. This fish on a stick perhaps worked better in concept than in practice, when I don’t really want to make a mess over a few morsels of meat.
Finally, it was time for sushi. Instead of overwhelming us with selection, Chef Masato gave us a chance to compare and contrast. There were two types of tuna served back to back. The lean tuna, aged 5 days, and the fatty tuna, aged 3 days. After that we were given two types of uni, one from Santa Barbara and the other from Hokkaido Japan. Each piece was well thought out and absolutely delicious. I’m not going to describe the pieces in detail, but it was one of the best sushi dining experiences you can get in New York.
I contemplated skipping dessert, but the rice pudding was a delicious way to cap the meal. The seemingly simple plate was actually rice pudding with reduced brown sugar sauce, paired with soba icecream. Seriously satisfying but at the same time light and healthy.
If you consider yourself to be a sushi connoisseur, you owe it to yourself to experience 15 East, at the bar. It’s simply one of the best.
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15 E 15th St
New York, NY 10003