Sunday, March 27, 2011

15 East is More Than Just One of the Best Sushi Restaurants in NYC (food)

It had been quite a while since my amazing solo dinner at 15 East last year. This time, I went with my friends DC and SC. The meal was spectacular yet again, but what made the experience special was how accomodative the service was.

This was extremely important to us, especially that evening. DC had been having some serious back pain, and needed to be seated comfortably. The chairs were by far the most comfortable chairs I've ever sat in at a sushi counter. I've even been to a sushi place far more expensive that only had backless stools at the sushi counter!

More importantly, DC was not a fan of raw fish in general. We took three seats at the sushi counter, but they had no problems with DC ordering off the kitchen menu. In fact, they were nice enough to bring us the menu from their (same owners) wonderful restaurant next door, Tocqueville. SC and I, meanwhile, had the omakase with some soba and tempura added to our menu, as I'd heard very good things about their soba and tempura.

Dinner starts off with edamame in seaweed salt.

As DC was deciding on his menu for the evening, the sushi chef showed us the big octopus for his famous poached octopus. We had come for the second seating, so he'd already cut a good number of tentacles off the beast.

WATERCRESS GOMAE Our amuse was a watercress salad with sesame paste. Crunchy, refreshing, and simple. A good start to the evening.

TASTING TRIO Our omakase started off with a trio of slow poached octopus, smoked ankimo with spicy daikon, and a simmered small fish with a sweet and sour sauce. The octopus was remarkably tender, and the pieces were cut much thicker than I remembered, which made it an even better bite texture-wise. Dipped into the seasalt, the flavor was superb. The smoked ankimo (steamed monkfish liver) was also delicious, with a nice sauce that matched well with the smokiness. The small fish had a very light sweet and sour sauce that was quite enjoyable. While we had these, they started DC's meal with a house-made miso soup.

DUO OF WILD SALMON AND YELLOWTAIL For DC's first course, a beautiful plate of salmon and yellowtail, infused with sweet saikyo miso and accompanied by soy ikura (salmon roe) butter.

Our captain grating the fresh wasabi in preparation for our sashimi course.

ASSORTED SASHIMI Clockwise from the lower left: mirugai (giant clam), saba (mackerel), cherry salmon cured with red vinegar, hamachi (yellowtail), behind the shrimp head was a seared Japanese black bass also known as "chicken fish", botan ebi (sweet shrimp, with head), and otoro. Everything was fresh and lovely. The shrimp was very sweet and the cured salmon was an interesting approach.

A closer look at the seared "chicken fish", which I thought was the most interesting piece on the plate, as it was completely cold despite the searing.

BABY ARTICHOKE AND SPRING GARLIC RISOTTO with house made ricotta cheese. DC's second course was this lovely looking risotto from the Tocqueville menu.

CHILLED SOBA Our soba course was delicious. The sauce was light, everything mixed together well, and the soba was very good.

SEASONAL TEMPURA Our tempura course consisted of two fritters made of tiny shrimp, mitsuba, and bamboo shoots. Excellently fried with a terrific texture. For me, this was absolutely amazing in terms of taste. The shrimp taste was so strong it almost felt artificial, like it was some chemically created chip flavor.

We then moved on to the sushi part of the meal.

JAPANESE SEA PERCH Upon her first bite, SC could immediately tell that the sushi rice was superior, especially compared to our trip to Masa.

RED SNAPPER

SEARED KINMEDAI The smokiness from the searing worked really well with the kinmedai (golden eye snapper). Since this was seared, we urged DC to have a piece, and the chef was nice enough to sear it a little bit more "well done" for him. DC really enjoyed it.

AKAMI Lean tuna which was extremely flavorful. Lots of places have some variation of toro. But to have lean tuna muscle be so tasty was a treat.

JAPANESE PICKLED VEGETABLES A nice assortment of palate-cleansing flavors for DC in preparation for his main course.

CHUTORO Medium fatty tuna is usually my favorite type, being more melt-in-your-mouth than other variations. This was wonderful.

OTORO Sometimes the fattiest tuna can be too fat and become a bit chewy, but this was perfect.

KATSUO Early spring bonito is hard to find and one of my favorite pieces of sushi. I actually asked for an extra piece as I liked this so much.

CHERRY WOOD SMOKED DUCK For DC's main course, he got the smoked duck served with shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and braised satsuma yam. DC enjoyed this very much, even though the smoking meant that the skin wasn't crispy.

BABY SNAPPER

Our handsome master sushi chef, Masato Shimizu, showing us how tiny the baby snapper was.

SMOKED SPANISH MACKEREL This had a smoky flavor that was very interesting with the sushi rice.

SANTA BARBARA UNI This variety of uni (sea urchin) is usually the cleanest-tasting one, and the one most recommended for those new to uni. This was one of the better versions of Santa Barbara uni I've had.

HOKKAIDO UNI This uni from the Northern Japanese island had a much brinier and oceany taste to it, and was my favorite.

MAINE UNI The uni from Maine is of the same type as the one from Hokkaido, just in different waters. I found this one to be too funky, with a weird aftertaste.

All three unis side by side, with Maine, Hokkaido, and Santa Barbara, from left to right.

ANAGO The final piece of the omakase was the sea eel, covered with a terrific sauce that was not overly sweet.

CHOPPED JACK MACKEREL We're superhuman eaters so we pushed on beyond the normal omakase. The chopped jack mackerel was mixed with ginger, scallion, shiso, and miso. It had a delicious and bright flavor and was quite unique.

HOTATE Japanese sea scallop was very fresh-tasting and sweet.

TUNA COLLAR The chef likes to refer to this piece as being from the cheek of the fish, but it doesn't matter where it's from when it's this delicious. Lightly seared (well done sear for DC), it was a great mix of fat and flesh.

A last look at his box of tuna cuts, representing the front side, back side, belly, and cheek. The box was obviously much fuller when the evening started, but it was close to 10:30pm at this point.

TAMAGO Our final piece from the sushi chef was the egg custard. He explained some of the ingredients that went into this, but I was too busy stuffing my face to remember what he said. This cake-like, slightly sweet piece was a perfect way to end a long meal.

Except that we weren't done, and ordered desserts as well. These were pleasantly comped by the sushi chef when the bill came.

GREEN TEA AND WHITE BEAN CREME BRULEE This was really interesting. The white bean is just slightly sweet, and is a good bridge between the sweet burnt sugar and the slightly bitter green tea. It also added a little grittiness to the custard which I found very enjoyable.

SHIRATAMA PARFAIT Green tea ice cream with red beans was a very tasty combination.

BAKED FUJI APPLE WITH VANILLA ICE CREAM There was a terrific range of textures to the apple dessert.

In addition to the massive amounts of food, we also drank a good amount of wine and sake. The sushi really is amongst the best in NYC, but what really separates 15 East from other sushi restaurants is the quality of the cooked food from the kitchen, and the extremely accomodative service. A truly wonderful experience where both sushi aficionados and their non-sushi eating friends can have a great meal together.

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