My friend and I were discussing how the month of December is meant for embracing the holiday spirit and spending time with our family and friends. Unfortunately, my festivities will not start for another two weeks. It’s finals season at NYU.
To cope with exams and the thought of moving back home for an entire month in January, I eat. I try to eat well and often in New York City restaurants because I’ll be leaving the States for the next five months.
My first destination was 15 East for unforgettable sashimi and sushi with Chef Masato Shimizu. This restaurant’s welcoming hospitality distinguishes itself from many of the other high-end sushi bars in the city. The experience is even more electrifying when Shimizu-san is at the counter, reading your reaction to each bite and making some very importance decisions about your next piece of fish.
First, pieces of slow poached octopus arrived. The Tako Yawarakani has gathered lots of attention after the rumor that members of Shimizu-san’s staff massage the octopus’ skin 500 times before hitting the gently simmering water. It’s one hundred percent true. It makes the pieces of octopus taste like butter.
Next is the sashimi plate. I imagine that this moment was so special to me because it was my first time having freshly grated wasabi. Fresh wasabi plant has a much sweeter taste and doesn’t shock your nose like American horseradish. My mouth started salivating after the first bite of needlefish and smoky grunt fish. The wooden counter formed a puddle after devouring the o-toro (fatty tuna) and raw spotted sweet shrimp. Shimizu-san’s freshly shocked scallop was not only a show stunt, but a technique to make the bivalve a surprisingly tender piece of sashimi.
Few minutes later, the head of the shrimp was deep fried in the kitchen and then sent right back. So good! My fondest memory of shrimp head was back in the dirty piers of Redondo Beach (circa ’06) and this was just as memorable (and as delicious). It tastes like warm shrimp crackers.
– Sushi –
Kanpachi (Amber Jack)
Chu-Toro (Medium Fatty Tuna)
Sumiika (Golden Cuttlefish)
– Ikura with Yuzu Zest –
Santa Barbara Uni (Roe)
Hokkaido Uni (Roe)
Anago (Sea Eel)
Tamago (Egg Omelet)
Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo has garnered lots of attention after Jiro Dreams of Sushi got the nod at the Tribeca Film Festival. Although people around the world dream of one day making a pilgrimage to dine at Chef Jiro Ono’s restaurant, the meal can cost around 35,000 Yen (~$425) and the meal can be as short as 19 minutes. I assume I have to sell one of my internal organs at the Tsukiji fish market to afford a lunch at Chef Jiro’s restaurant.
15 East is a much more comfortable (and less expensive) meal. It is not only a Japanese restaurant, but it is also very much a New York City fine-dining restaurant. A meal lasts around two hours (time passes by really fast) and the service is attentive. Most importantly, Shimizu-san is right in front of you during every single step.
Sushi is not only about the fish. It’s also about good quality rice. The rice should be vinegary, slightly soft, loose, and crumbly. People are under the assumption that the rice is only a vehicle for the fish to rest on. However, this assumption is wrong. Good sushi rice is its own entity.
My most memorable parts of the meal were the soft piece of amberjack, the succulent bite of chu-toro, both the uni dishes (from Santa Barbara and Hokkaido) and the warm fall-off-the-bone piece of anago.
Shimizu-san asks us for our input throughout dinner. Be conscious during every bite and do not stumble when he asks you about your thoughts on the differences between the uni from Japan and the one from California. Be a good student.
The most underrated treat is the tamago, a humble piece of Japanese egg omelet that is a sweet and savory end to the meal.
There’s so much passion and excitement in Chef’s eyes when he is working at the counter. If you develop a sense of curiosity about fish during your lunch or dinner, Shimizu-san will even pull out his tattered books from his shelf to show you the anatomy of the katsuo from Spain. If you’re respectful throughout the meal, he’ll even slip you a piece of paper that lists his most memorable restaurants in Japan. This experience is worth every penny.