15 East, NYC 2

March 11, 2010

On March 5, 2010, Linda and I took Russell to 15 East to celebrate his sixteenth birthday and his all A’s report card.

The restaurant is a hybrid with a sushi bar in front and a dining room with a Japanese kitchen in back.  There is an extensive printed à la carte menu, both of regular dishes and of specials. There are also three seven-course tasting menus: Sushi Chef’s Tasting Menu, Tasting Menu from our Kitchen and Kitchen Sushi Bar. We decided to have tasting menus even though that meant we could not retry excellent dishes from our meal at 15 East from last August, such as the Squid Ink Risotto with Uni and Grilled Octopus or the Tasting of Seaweeds. Our waitress explained that we did not all have to have the same menu. Linda and Russell chose the menu with both kitchen and sushi bar. When I chose the Kitchen Menu, she told me that it had just been redone and that I would be the first to have it.

My descriptions below are from scribbled notes; we had no printed menu and our dishes were not the same as à la carte offerings. Our Japanese server was obviously passionate about the food, but his English pronounciation was not great and the restaurant’s one big flaw, the very high noise level, made it hard to understand. We did frequently ask for clarifications from our excellent Santa-Monica-born waitress. But you will see that some descriptions are more complete than others.

We ordered a bottle of Junmai Dai Ginjo sake, Kabota “Hekiju.” It had a lovely complex flavor, which I am learning to appreciate. A small appetizer of squash tofu with a dab of wasabe arrived. A nice starter.

 

A bowl of spiced and salted Chamame, heirloom edamame, was put on the table. Very good.
 

 

Linda and Russell’s first course was herring roe with kelp, homemade tofu and a foie gras dumpling. They said it was an excellent start.
 

 

My first course was crab and abalone. They were lightly cooked and seasoned; very good.
 

 

Their next dish was a shiso leaf with a piece of red snapper sashimi that we were told had been washed in ice water to firm up the muscle of the snapper. They liked the result.
 

 

Mine was a large clam in a broth.

This was okay, but not very interesting despite the gold leaf.

 

Their third course was a tartare of bluefin tuna with a slice of tuna on top. Linda described the tartare as melt-in-your-mouth excellent.
 

 

My third course was a very long, narrow glass plate that was presented vertically to me, like a Japanese scroll. (The photos here are side by side, but the second one should really be under the first.) I was asked to eat the various sashimi pieces from the top down. Included were balls of toro tartare, fluke with herring roe, sliced toro and other interesting tidbits.
 
 

At this point we ordered a bottle of Urakasune Junmai sake. It was less complex than the first one. Our waitress seemed to think that was the logical order with sake and I agreed as it had more of a role of offsetting the cuisine at this point than at the start of the evening when it stood alone. 

Their fourth course was yellowtail, mustard greens, carrot, miso dashi, daikon and mushroom.

Linda wrote: The yellowtail was firm and the combination was delicious.
 

 
My fourth was foie gras tempura topped with chopped okra. Underneath was cool, thin soba. The faux sea urchin was made of nori (seaweed) shards. The tempura is an interesting idea, but I didn’t think that the flavor or texture of the foie gras held up to the frying. The soba was delicious.
 
Their fifth was tea-smoked duck, sea mushrooms, spring onion shoots and other goodies I didn’t note.
Linda wrote: The duck’s smoked flavor was luscious and the meat tender. The spring onion shoots and the potato crunchies were just right. The sauce was a sweet miso sauce that reminded me of plum sauce. Bravo again.
 
 
 My fifth was Mishima beef cooked with Japanese mustard and topped with sea urchin; a fresh, early spring grilled bamboo shoot (Takenoko,) asparagus spear, fried lotus root slice and a piece of fish with dipping sauce. It was served on a lovely little ceramic grill with real live little hot coals.

The online Japan Guidebook says:
 

Mishima beef is a rare type of beef that comes from the small island of Mishima Island of the tip of southern Honshu. Unlike Kobe beef, which came from crossing Japanese cows with European breeds, Mishima cattle are pure-bred from the original strain introduced to Japan via Korea over 2,000 years ago. One reason local farmers have been able to prevent interbreeding is because of the isolated location of the island.

I thought that it was exceptionally good with more flavor and substance than the overly fatty Wagyu beef served so often now in New York. The uni was also top quality; its merger with the beef was interesting. The bamboo shoot was also scrumptious and tender, different from any I have had before. Our waitress said that one can only get it this way at a small period in the early spring as bamboo grows very fast. Grilling brought out the flavor. The other vegetables were fine, but I didn’t see the point of the piece of fish, although I have certainly seen that kind of combination in Kaiseki meals.

 

Their sixth course was the sushi bar highlight of their menu, the omakase. It started with fresh wasabe, or Japanese horseradish, being grated on a paddle covered with sharkskin. This gives a particularly fine texture. The wasabe was put into little bowls and they were instructed with which sushi pieces to use it. I did not record what the various fish were, but they said it was all top quality.
 

 
My sixth course was a jumble of octopus, broccoli, unago (sea eel,) salmon roe and other good things on top of sushi rice. There was a cup of miso soup alongside.

 
 

At this point our waitress asked if anyone would like to add some à la carte sushi. Russell asked for three pieces which turned out to be firefly squid (Hotaruika,) ice fish (Shirauo) and Santa Barbara sea urchin. He thoroughly enjoyed them.

 

Linda and Russell were given different desserts. Hers was almond tofu and passion fruit sorbet.
 
 

His was fruit with deconstructed mochi (glutinous rice cake,) green tea ice cream and red bean sauce.

My dessert was soy/caramel tofu.

 

We enjoyed a lovely evening with a lot of exploration of the chefs’ talents. The ingredients were top quality and frequently unusual; the combinations and sauces almost always made sense. Bravo.

On the way out of the dining room we passed through the sushi bar.

We could also see the sushi bar from the street as we went out. Russell only lives a block away so he can go back whenever he can afford it.

To see our quite different meal at 15 East from last August click here.

The restaurant’s website:
http://www.15eastrestaurant.com

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