Art is a powerful medium. It not only reflects the human experience, it makes us question our beliefs and contemplate the meaning of life and if we are alone in the universe.
In the case of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it also makes us hungry.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about what many consider to be the finest sushi restaurant in the world. It chronicles Jiro’s life work, his passion for sushi, and his relationship with his two sons.
To get an idea of how serious he is about his sushi, when a young man first comes to apprentice him, he is allowed only to squeeze hand towels for the first 3 years of service. After that, he may start slicing fish. Then, and only then, is he allowed to start making the omelettes.
Jiro doesn’t fool around.
And neither does Chef Shimizu, at 15 East.
This small, almost hidden restaurant in Union Square, has some New York City’s most excellent sushi. After seeing the veritable food porn on the silver screen, I was craving some really high end nigiri and sashimi, and 15 East was the first stop on my list.
The restaurant is done in clean lines and light tones, with a small sushi bar in an anteroom outside the calm dining room. Note that if you make a reservation online, you won’t eat at the sushi bar – you must call in person to make a reservation here.
Though I was craving sushi, that’s not all that 15 East does well.
Foie Gras and Truffle Chawanmushi
This steamed egg custard arrives piping hot, with an earthy scent from the black truffles. The first taste is that umami hit of the foie gras reduction swimming on top, then the rich creaminess of the egg custard. Eggs, truffles, foie gras: the trio to end all trios. Perfectly balanced, perfectly complimentary. Hidden in the custard are meaty mushrooms and slightly spicy radish. This savory custard is indulgent without being heavy – an ideal appetizer
Soba with Santa Barbara Uni
Uni is the pure essence of the ocean, like a silkier version of oysters. At its best, it is salty, clean tasting, and almost melts on your tongue, leaving behind something like the memory of ocean air. This is uni at its best. Perfectly cleaned tongues of uni, dissolving in the mouth, tasting so fresh and almost sweet. Draped over al dente soba noodles, which have very earthy taste that is pleasantly reminiscent of hay. With its deep, soy flavored broth, this is a complex and satisfying dish.
For $28, you get a selection of 7 pieces of nigiri plus half of a roll, all the chef’s selection. If you particularly like or don’t like something, feel free to mention it, and your request will be met with pleasure from the waitstaff.
This could not be a more perfect plate of sushi. Well, rewind…it could. The rice, is, to my taste, a bit too al dente and not seasoned enough. However, that is nitpicking, because it is still good and the fish is fantastic. Everything from needlefish to hamachi to king salmon to seared goldeneye snapper is seasoned specifically and served so that each fish would compliment the other. Some are clean and snappy, some are velvety and rich, some are lightly seared and smoky and others are touched with a bit of ponzu to impart a lightly acidic taste. The negitoro roll is fantastic – fatty, lush, sharp with scallions.
Though this is a perfect lunchtime portion, be aware that your inner sushi beast will be awakened and you will probably order more sushi after this. Don’t blame yourself – after all, you’re only human. And this sushi is divine.
15 East is not the place to come when you want 3 sushi rolls for $10 and a fruity cocktail. It isn’t the place to take someone who thinks that sushi means fusion rolls filled with cream cheese and Doritos. This is a place to spend some serious money in a lovely setting with a passionate waitstaff who loves to discuss the difference between toro and maguro with you.
The sushi is pristine and the cooked dishes are inventive and expertly prepared. Though Jiro dreams of sushi, Fritos and Foie Gras dreams of 15 East.