I tend to plan trips around places to eat. I try to eat good when I travel by becoming immersed in the food culture of whatever city I’m in. Through the years, I’ve learned that it’s best to forego fast and easy as an excuse to eat when wandering through an unfamiliar city. Knowing how something tastes and what to expect from each bite should not be a pre-requisite for any meal that you eat when traveling. Instead, eat good by finding what the locals eat and then seeking it out. Eat good by trying something new and exciting, and maybe a little scary. Eat good by devouring something that your taste buds have never tasted. Eat good by finding adventure in the food that you eat.
And that brings me to 15 East, located between S Union Sq & 5th Ave in the Flatiron District. Sushi at 15 East is by no means a New York standard like a hot dog from Nathan’s on Coney Island, or a pastrami sandwich from Katz’s Delicatessen. 15 East might not be a staple of New York eats, but it does serve, arguably, some of the best sushi in Manhattan.
A seat at Sushi Chef Masato Shimizu’s sushi bar takes some advanced planning. In order to make reservations for the sushi bar, you must contact the restaurant directly through phone and reservations for the sushi bar can only be made up to 30 days in advance.
We booked a 6pm reservation on the first Saturday of June. We were the first guests in the restaurant and were promptly seated at the sushi bar. Little did we know, we’d have Chef Masa all to ourselves for about 30 minutes, before other guests would start to arrive. He would be preparing all of our sushi for the evening, right in front of us.
Dinner started with Chef Masa presenting a large and very much intact tako (octopus) before us. He pointed at the bright red cephalopod comfortably resting over a black plate and said, “picture time.” On command, we had our cameras out and proceeded to shoot the octopus as if it was a model strutting down the catwalk during New York Fashion Week. It was an exquisite piece of octopus. He then asked us to choose our tentacle. We had first choice. I’m not sure what logic I used when selecting our tentacle, but eventually, a tentacle was selected. We then watched as he carefully sliced the tentacle, which he then presented to us on a white plate. That tako, let me tell you, it was thoroughly enjoyed.
Following the octopus would be a large shrimp sourced from San Diego. It was still alive. He showed the shrimp to us before dismembering it. Just as he was about to give us the newly dismembered shrimp, head disconnected from the rest of its body, the detached member decided to invoke one last rebellion by leaping out of the ice-filled glass. Chef Masa’s eyes became big and he burst out in laughter, as we did. His charm and banter would entertain us throughout the night.
When he learned that we were visiting from Hawaii, he became noticeably excited. “Hawaii!” was his response. He then asked if we knew of Sushi Sasabune. “Of course,” we replied, “it’s one of the best sushi restaurants in Hawaii.” He also name dropped Yanagi Sushi on Kapiolani Boulevard, and said that he knew master sushi chef Haruo Nakayama.
The rest of the evening was a blur. The sashimi omakase contained one of the most lustful pieces of otoro that I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. But, the most memorable dish of the evening was Chef Masa’s signature anago nigiri. It was [insert chosen expletive] good. It was so good that we ordered more of it. The second time around, we were sure to savor every bite with slow precision and with our eyes closed. We found ourselves talking about that anago for the next few days.
This is why I love omakase so much. It’s the unexpected nature of the dining experience that I find intriguing and invigorating. I can always count on tasting a new type of fish, an unfamiliar type of uni from a specific region in Japan or elsewhere, or a chef’s specialty. Omakase, oh omakase.
Here’s the breakdown of our omakase:
- Sashimi omakase: Orange clam, yellowtail, otoro (fatty tuna), Saba, salmon
- Red snapper
- Stripe Jack (shimaji)
- Japanese white eel cured in kombu (a type of seaweed)
- Akami (lean tuna)
- Chutoro (medium fatty tuna)
- Seared goldeneye snapper
- Kojada spotted sardine
- Sea scallop with yuzu zest
- Sea urchin (Uni) from Santa Barbara, California (creamy)
- Sea urchin (Uni) from Hokkaido, Japan (sweet)
- Salt-water eel (anago)
- Japanese amberjack (hamachi)
- Tofu-milk pudding with brown sugar.
Dining at Chef Masa’s sushi bar was truly a memorable experience. My advice to future diners: book early, eat with your fingers, and savor each and every bite. Oh, and remember, 30 days in advance.
15 E 15th St.
New York, NY 10003