Q: What is it? A: A Japanese sushi temple of the more modest kind. Traditional. Low-key. Quiet. Enjoyable. Especially during lunchtime on a quiet day it’s a culinary experience that I’d like more people to have.
Left: The name East 15 is not a mystery – located on 15 East 15th Street. Right: Piece of fish. Or to be more specific: Golden eye snapper sushi. Nice and fatty with a lightly roasted skin adding a bit of smokey flavor. Served during the sushi festival at the end of the meal.
First a bottle of Koshihikari Echigo Beer (which benefits from being enjoyed with food, as opposed to having it as a stand-alone beverage) followed by not miso but seasonal mushroom soup. I’m not a soup-guy but… this time I’m lost for words. What a s-o-u-p!
Massaged octopus; the Madako (or the common octopus). Sourced from North Africa or Portugal, massaged 500 times, which takes at least 20 minutes. Reaches its slippery heights when lowered gently into flavored water and simmered for exactly 40 minutes, twenty on each side.
The tentacles from the poor octopus above, arrayed beside a hillock of sea salt. Mind-blowing. To the right: A little creation of shirako and tempura that sadly vanished into anonymity. And shirako means that you’re eating ”male cod” as they explained it to me. Cod sperm would be the correct translation. Interesting.
This is the way we roll: Discreetly pimpin’, kinda sort of. This is the negitoro (toro and scallion) complete with wasabi from the Amagi mountains in Japan, grown in terraced farms with continuous water flow.
And finally… a little bit of dessert with rice pudding tempura a la mode (which tasted way more pleasant than in looked – the texture makes it what it is) and dassai sake-kasu ice cream. Screaming good and certainly no need to feel guilty. Eat it slowly with a demitasse spoon.
Left: The guys who make it happen. Gentle and soft-spoken and very quiet until they find out that you’re interested in what they do. Right: A little sashimi-platter with hamachi yellowtail, red snapper, japanese mackerel, sweet shrimp, king salmon and medium-fatty toro. Even the soy was deeee-li-cious.
Let’s talk Japanese food. Traditional Japanese food.
If you want to be very mean to East 15 you could accuse them for not being overly innovative. Just telling you – don’t come here expecting surprises with little interesting spins, like popcorn rotating on top of your nigiri. You won’t get them. Instead you will get everything you’d expect from an ambitious sushi restaurant – only a couple of notches better. The 2nd piece of advice is to call the restaurant up and ask for a seat at the sushi bar. There’s simply no better place to enjoy this temple of Japanese food.
Lunchtime and I’m the first guest.
I’m arriving 10 minutes late. I’m hereby sending my thanks to a taxi driver with zero sense of direction (how the flying four-letter word can you have problems finding Union Square?). Despite this I’m looking at one empty restaurant. The effect is that I have three waiters serving me and a sushi chef and his assistant working behind the counter. When there’s not much action I have six grown up men looking at me eating. They sense my amusement and the temple starts to light up a little. And after the edamame, a bottle of Koshihikari Echigo Beer and a little mushroom soup, they prove why they deserve their Michelin-star.
Omakase for champions.
When I visit, the head chef, Masato Shimizu, is not around. But his purist’s approach to cooking is all over the place. He cures his own gari (ginger) and make sure that fresh fish is flown in from Japan and Europe (the octopus is still alive when it arrives to Shimizu’s kitchen). At East 15 they distinguish between good slippery and bad slippery. The first is the jelly-like texture of a perfectly cooked tentacle. Bad slippery is the octopus’ outer membrane that the chefs get rid of by massaging the octopus with salt for 20 minutes. Another delivery that makes East 15 stand out is their rice. Texture and moistness is stellar. And the sushi segment of the omakase is one of the top three I ever had.
It’s not the only sushi restaurant in New York…
…but it’s certainly belongs in the top segment. It’s not as showy as other places. The interior is as low-key as the staff. But I have a very strong feeling about soon returning. Together with Neta, this is the most pleasant experience with raw fish I’ve had in quite a while. Yes, that’s how I spell ‘highly recommended’.
15 East Restaurant
15 E 15th Street
New York, NY 10003