During a month in which I went to Eleven Madison Park and Daniel, my favorite meal (and clear front-runner for favorite meal of the year) came while dining solo at the sushi counter of 15 East. I left myself in the chef's capable hands, although I did say that I wanted to try some cooked food as well. I ate a lot, so this could take a while.
Upon arriving at the sushi bar, I was greeted with this edamame with seaweed salt. I'm not a big edamame person, and still don't get people ordering edamame at restaurants, but this was nice to start.
Also complimentary was this amuse of string bean veloute.
The chef plopped this impressive beast down in front of us (me and other patrons at the sushi bar).
TAKO YAWARAKANI It wasn't just for show as he cut off one of the tentacles to deliver us slices of slow poached octopus served with sea salt. It had a nice flavor but more importantly was amazingly tender, melty even, with soft skin and a nice gelatinous layer just under the skin.
FUKKO "ARAI" Next up was sashimi of ice-cured Japanese wild striped bass served with ponzu sauce and a light sprinkle of zest from baby yuzu. When I asked about the ice-curing, the chef explained that it was a traditional Japanese method, and had trouble actually translating it. From what I could tell, it was some sort of ice bath to keep the flesh firm. The flesh was indeed firm and had a nice fresh taste.
Chef showed us cuts of the day's tuna. He enjoyed remarking that the tuna was from Jersey, as it was caught not too far offshore of New Jersey in the Atlantic. From right to left, cuts from the inside, the backside, the belly, and the collar. He referred to the collar cuts as being from "the cheek", saying that it sounded better that way.
ASSORTED SASHIMI Starting on the left side, there is AOYAGI, an orange clam that he threw down onto a stone slab to show its freshness and tensile strength as the clam rebounded to its original shape. This is followed by SABA (mackerel), TAI (Japanese snapper), and HAMACHI (yellowtail) in the back. On the right side starting from the front is OTORO (fattiest tuna), followed by BOTAN EBI (sweet shrimp) that was freshly taken from a small bowl of water behind the chef. As we each got our plates, the whiskers on the shrimp were still moving. Finally, behind the shrimp is seared ISAKI (grunt fish). I really liked the aoyagi clam and the mackerel was one of the least fishy-tasting examples of that fish I've had. The otoro was lovely and the grunt fish was really tasty, with the searing giving it a nice smoky feel.
HOMEMADE SOFT TOFU
The tofu was to be enjoyed with each bite containing a mix of the warm broth, ginger, and scallions.
More shrimp head. Perfectly crunchy and salty.
My last cooked dish before the sushi began. Fried greenling fish with shisito peppers and mushrooms.
The fried fish came with this sauce of soy-cucumber vinaigrette and shichimi togarashi (seven spice powder). Putting together a piece of the fish with a piece of the pepper and the sauce was an explosion of flavor, brought together by the perfectly fried fish.
SHIMA AJI (striped jack) Nice firm flesh that had a bounce to the bite.
MAKOGAREI (marbled sole, served with liver sauce) The chef keeps a book on hand that is sort of an encyclopedia of fish, and looked through it to show me what this fish looked like. I liked the liver sauce, though the flavor is hard to describe.
TAI More red snapper, this one served with some scallions.
KINMEDAI (golden eye snapper) This was lightly seared on top to puff up the flesh and gave it a great taste as well as a nice contrast to the firm raw flesh. One of the best preparations of kinmedai sushi I've had.
MAGURO AKAMI (lean tuna) This is the dark red meat of the fish. Mostly (if not all) muscle. I liked this a lot and thought this was one of the best pieces of non-toro tuna I've had.
CHU-TORO (medium fatty tuna) Often my favorite toro because it's not just plain fat like otoro, this was perfectly melty.
NAMERO (horse mackerel tartare with shiso) This had ginger, scallion, miso, and shiso in it. Unfortunately, I thought the shiso flavor was too strong.
BONITO (skipjack tuna) This was from Long Island, and served as usual with a quick sear and some scallions. I asked if he gets spring bonito (katsuo) from Japan, and he said that he does, but that this year the season started and ended much earlier than usual.
BABY JAPANESE RED SNAPPER This was given a quick marinade before being served as sushi.
The middle piece here is the size of the whole snapper filet, showing that it was indeed a baby.
IWASHI (Japanese sardine)
JAPANESE WHITING This was marinated in a kombu mixture which gave it quite a strong aftertaste that isn't for everyone.
NAMADAKO (live octopus) He threw this down onto a stone slab as well, and it also bounced back to original shape and continued to writhe a bit. Served with some green tea salt, I would say that this would remind most people of squid.
TORIGAI (beakneck clam) This clam doesn't have a direct English translation, but is so called because of its shape.
The next piece was Hokkaido Uni served in a gunkan maki (rice has seaweed wrapped around it to make a vessel for the ingredient). I devoured it so quickly that I forgot to take a picture. It was so good I almost ordered another one to take the picture anyway. Great ocean flavor.
As a contrast, he offered some uni that came from Chile (he said this was his first time getting this). It had a nice clean flavor similar to an American sea urchin. However, I much prefer the Japanese uni which is stronger in flavor.
A piece from the tuna collar he showed earlier, which had been cooked/simmered. I guess some of that fat needed to be broken down. He added some salt and pepper and was getting ready to give it a quick sear.
The finished product was delicious as expected.
ANAGO (sea eel)
TAMAGO (egg custard) This is the same as the custard sushi at Yasuda, although with a different recipe since the tamago is the one item that solely belongs to each individual chef. He said that this method was the traditional Japanese way, and that the tamago omelet sushi wasn't. This was terrific as it was just lightly sweet and had an almost cake-like texture.
I couldn't really have any dessert after this, but did manage one scoop of their coconut-lime sorbet which I had tried before. The sharpness of the lime is kept in check and rounded out by the milkiness of the coconut flavor.
Even this far into this long review, I haven't finished describing the excellence. The sushi rice was superb. While I can't make a direct comparison to Yasuda's rice, I feel that it was certainly above other sushi rice I've had. The bill was also a pleasant surprise. I've had a similar meal before (though not as good) at Kanoyama but the bill was over 30% higher. My average meals at Yasuda are also in that higher price range. My guess is that the reason for this is that at 15 East they charged me a set meal price. At other top sushi places like Yasuda, they end up charging me each piece at the a la carte price. Now that I think about it, that doesn't make much sense. Almost anywhere you go, if you commit to a long set meal, your cost per dish should be cheaper than the a la carte price, right? Why do sushi places get to be different? Isn't omakase like any other set meal?
But I digress. Back to the main point. The food was terrific, amazing at times, and there was a lot of it. The price was what I considered very reasonable, and the chef was friendly and engaging. I won't make direct comparisons to places like Yasuda (larger variety) and Seki (different style), but it definitely makes the rotation and I will be back.