15 East, NYC

August 21, 2009

15 East, at 15 East Fifteenth Street, is one of the more highly regarded Japanese restaurants in New York. It is a hybrid in that it has a sushi bar in front and a dining room with a Japanese kitchen in the back. On August 19, 2009, Linda and I met Aaron and Adam for dinner in the dining room. We ordered a bowl of Chamame, seasoned heirloom edamame, and a bottle of Hakkaisan sake. It was dry for a Junmai and was a nice aperitif.  It was eventually followed by a bottle of Yuho, a slightly fruitier and more robust Junmai that stood up to the food. The edamame were thoroughly cooked, seasoned and salted; they were better than edamame we have had elsewhere.


We each received a little amuse-gueule:
a roasted shishito pepper with shaved fish flakes.
This was a nice palate warmer as the shishito has a bit of heat, but it doesn’t linger. The fish flakes make a soft contrast.

There are several tasting menus, but we decided to order à la carte.

Linda started with the
Maguro “Yamakake
diced akami bluefin tuna, grated yamaime, quail egg.

Yamakake is a cooking method using grated Japanese mountain yam, yamaimo (yama= mountain imo= potato.) It is generally considered to be a taste which has to be acquired. The tuna was good and the nori added needed crunch, but Linda had not acquired the taste for yamaime.

Aaron’s first course was
Dégustation of Sea Lettuces
yuzu-sesame gelée

Aaron wrote:

I quite enjoyed this dish.  I found it to be an interesting array of textures and flavors.  Some were almost bouncy/rubbery like squid or calamari, and slightly sweet; others were bristly and slightly bitter; some were pickled, marinated, or otherwise given some extra hit of acidity (the yuzu-sesame gelée was another nice source of that).

Adam’s appetizer was a half portion of
Kuruma Prawn Tempura
seasonal vegetables

He liked it.

Mine was
Japanese herbs, plum-wasabi, ponzu

Hamo is daggertooth pike conger eel, which is very appreciated in Kyoto for traditional reasons, although it is not a particularly flavorful eel. “Yakishimo” is a style of cooking it by charring the skin. It seemed more like mackerel to me than eel. It definitely needed the two condiments. The greens added some freshness to the mushy texture. This certainly had less interest to me than the ordinary Japanese freshwater eel, or unagi, which I am used to ordering as sushi.

Linda went on to
soy-cucumber vinaigrette

Karaage is a traditional cooking style in which small pieces of meat or fish are marinated in soy, garlic and ginger and then deep fried. Linda thought that the shape and flavor of the crispy eel pieces were more like shrimp.

Aaron had the
Home-Made Soba with Uni
chilled broth, scallions, bonito flakes, fresh wasabi


The soba noodles were flatter, more ribbon-like than I would have expected or preferred.  The thinness meant it had a little less chew than I was looking for.  The buckwheat flavor in the noodles was somewhat muted.  The uni, however, was high quality product, and generously mounded on top, to be sure.  A nice kick of wasabi punched up the soy-based broth at the bottom of the bowl.  A pleasant enough dish, but I wasn’t enamored of it.

Adam’s main course was the
Sushi Omakase
ten pieces of chef’s choice

He seemed more than satisfied. 

Mine was
Squid Ink Risotto
sea urchin, grilled squid, sweet garlic emulsion

This was superb. The rice had a lovely squid ink flavor and just the right texture. The generous glob of uni in the middle added an elegant richness. The grilled squid on the side was a further development of the flavor with more substance; it was enhanced by the hatch-work garlic emulsion underneath. Bravo.

As Linda had been disappointed in her first two courses and was not yet full, she ordered
Japanese Sea Scallops
spring onion, crispy potato, uni butter

The scallops were very good. She liked the potato chunks, but they were not “crispy. 

Aaron had
Wild Salmon Five Ways
shimeji mushrooms, shiso rice, soy-ikura butter


Calling the ikura the 5th salmon element in the Salmon Five Ways dish was a little questionable, but I enjoyed the dish well enough.  The sashimi cried out for simple soy sauce (there was a sauce on the plate — soy-ikura butter —  was a bit too sweet for me) or better yet a few crystals of course salt.  The second raw prep, topped with what looked/tasted like a powdered nori and salt, was fine.  The mound of hot smoked salmon was a bit dry near the edges but flaky and moist on the interior.  Also I didn’t feel it was over-smoked, which I find happens a lot.  The crispy salmon skin was nice.  The shiso rice almost acted as dessert, definitely on the sweeter side.

(Ikura is the salmon roe scattered about. The name comes from the Russian word for caviar: Ikra. The shiso rice ball in the upper right was topped with the crispy salmon skin.)

I thought that this was generally a fine meal. The fish was fresh and high quality; it was cooked and seasoned just enough. The presentation was artistic. The service was friendly and efficient. The pace was just right. The big disappointment came from Linda and I not understanding when we ordered that this type of eel would not be as interesting as what we were expecting.  Linda and Aaron did not feel that our meal was special enough to justify the price tag of $100 each. (We ordered sakes from the low end of the list.) My positive evaluation is dominated by the superb squid ink risotto which was not like anything I have had elsewhere. Lucky or knowledgeable ordering seems to be key at 15 East. The noise level was too high and the music unnecessary, but we still had enjoyable conversations about the cuisine this evening and around the world.


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