15 E 15th St (btwn Fifth Ave/Union Square West), 212-647-0015, 15EastRestaurant.com
Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky add to their culinary empire with the freshest fish hauled in from Japan by executive sushi chef Masato Shimizu.
My gal pal is simply stark-raving mad for sushi. I don’t know anyone who loves the raw devils more profoundly than she does. So it was my thrill on the evening we hastened to 15 East to have her sample executive chef Masato Shimizu’s fresh fish flown, which is flown in from Japan. We were, in a word, wowed. Everything was a small surprise—we were presented with wonderful gifts, which once opened, so to speak, proved to be utter delights, enlivening our taste buds, enriching our hearts and filling our stomachs.
The husband-and-wife team Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky moved their fabulous Tocqueville to a nearby location and reinvigorated its former address as 15 East with the assistance of architect Richard Bloch. Although we considered the crowded sushi bar in front, we made our way to a more capacious corner banquette in the modest dining room composed in an inviting color scheme of sand and slate with pale, billowy curtains.
Settling into cocktails, the Tokyo Manhattan struck my fancy with a light Japanese single-malt whiskey with a masculine uprising about the bosom that bandied about with sweet vermouth and brandied cherries. The summery caipirinha with passion fruit and lime had a good nose and was decidedly more feminine.
A convenient tray of creamy, buttery Kumamoto oysters started us off with sweet, icy ponzu granite and pickled turnips that held a resonating pine flavor in the final execution. Bluefin tuna was served two ways: as red velvet slices of sashimi and chopped toro tartare in a conspiracy with chive oil and paddlefish caviar.
We moved on to a carafe of a floral, elusive, wondrous chilled Koshi no Kanbai “Muku” sake that further enhanced the flavors of our ensuing dishes, which included a rapturous, benevolent and calm pond of caviar, ikura and uni floating along with cold soba noodles and wasabi paste. More sea urchin found its way into a poignant, soft risotto keenly matched with sumptuous matsutake mushrooms and pink wasabi root to set up our pasta course. We dispensed with our chopsticks, resorting to spoons so we could devour the dish more quickly. Eleven kinds of Japanese sea lettuces, in turns sturdy, woodsy, frilly, oceanic, fruity and sweet, cleansed our palates for the upcoming meat.
A tartare of chopped Kobe beef led the way with a presiding flavor of crisped garlic and a cracked, runny quail egg on top. Foie gras terrine bordered on the obscene with miso duck, raisins and brioche that I unashamedly admit I devoured in one orgiastic bite. Medium-rare smoky duck with shiitake mushrooms, sweet Japanese yams in a veal stock reduction and soy had us quacking with vigor.
Resist as we did at first, desserts were a foregone conclusion. Wavering between indulgences such as flourless chocolate cake, kabocha crème caramel, a watermelon parfait and green tea ice cream with matcha jelly and red beans, the crunchy tempura rice pudding won out with its fully rounded ice cream fashioned from sake. With nothing left to do but hug our gracious co-conspirators, we packed up and left 15 East to head home, back west.
Prices: Appetizers: $12-$29; Entrées: $18-$95; Alcohol: wine, full bar, specialty cocktails.
Short Order: For aficionados of fish, modern Japanese cuisine off of Union Square proves to be a really great catch.
Peter’s Picks: Tokyo Manhattan cocktail; sea urchin and mushroom risotto; foie gras terrine with duck; caviar, sea urchin and salmon roe soba noodles.
Peter’s Pans: 15 East has not taken residence in my apartment building.
First published in part in Next magazine.
Photo Credit: Michel Ann O'Malley