Sunday, June 19, 2011

High-End Sushi (15 East)

Assorted Sushi

When I was a kid, there was a cartoon called Doug, and in one episode, Doug's grandmother takes him out to eat sushi for the first time. At first, Doug is pretty resistant to the idea of eating raw fish, falsely believing that raw fish equates to live fish. He eventually gets over his fear of sushi and ends up really liking it. Likewise, I did not try sushi until I was in high school because, up until then, I was grossed out by the prospect of eating something that was raw. Since then, though, sushi has become one of my favorite foods, and I think I've been trying my best to make up for the lost years by going for all-you-can-eat sushi as often as possible. Now, I know that many sushi snobs aficionados will say that sushi is not meant to be eaten in an AYCE format and that such sushi is terrible quality. While I will agree that there are some dud AYCE sushi joints serving up old fish with poor-quality rice, the good AYCE places are a godsend for poor college kids like me - $21.95 for as much sushi as I want at my favorite neighborhood joint, Yuka. Sure, it's not premium quality, but it's very good and definitely gets the job done when I get a craving. Contrast that to how much it would cost to fill me up eating a la carte or doing an omasake at a nice Japanese restaurant, and you can see how AYCE sushi just makes so much more sense for someone like me. To me, the difference in quality is more than made up for by the substantial difference in price.

That said, I have always wanted to go to a nice, upscale Japanese restaurant for sushi. After hearing rave reviews from several sources about the impressive $29 lunch prix fixe offered at 15 East, I knew that I would have to try it out for myself. Shortly after I was seated, I noticed that none other than Wylie Dufresne was seated at the table opposite of mine. I think this was my first experience seeing anyone remotely famous while eating at a restaurant, so this was mildly exciting, and by that, I mean that I furtively snapped a couple of quick photos on my iPhone.

Asparagus Velout√© with Sea Eel

For my first course, I opted for the Asparagus Velouté with Sea Eel. Served in a shot glass-sized cup, the soup was flavorful, though the sea eel felt out of place in the dish. It was impossible to cut the eel with the tiny wooden spoon that was given with the soup, so I ended up having to cram the whole piece into my mouth, showing off just how unrefined and uncouth I am. The eel itself was a bit too chewy for my taste, and its flavor got overshadowed by that of the soup.


Next up was the sushi, which was what I was looking forward to the most. The prix fixe comprised of four pieces of nigiri - Kampachi (Amber Jack), Hamachi (Yellowtail), Arctic Char, and Tai (Japanese Snapper) - along with a tuna roll. All of the fish was extremely fresh; no off-color, funny smelling fish to be found here. My favorite was the hamachi, which was particularly sweet. In addition, I ordered a piece of Uni, sourced from Hokkaido, Japan; so much for eating locally-sourced foods. This was my first time trying uni, and I thoroughly enjoyed it; it's aftertaste actually kinda reminds me a bit of unagi, albeit with a bit more brininess and richness. At $12 for one piece, this was certainly a splurge, but I figured that if I'm eating at 15 East, I might as well take the plunge. Go hard or go home, right? Right.

Green Tea Ice Cream

Unlike what I had read about in the previous reviews of 15 East's lunch prix fixe, a dessert course was served instead of a third savory course, which was a bit of a letdown. The green tea ice cream, topped with a crisp, buttery shortbread-like cookie, was fairly ordinary and nothing to write home about. I mean, yeah, I like ice cream and will gladly eat it, but as a dessert for a prix fixe meal, I would expect a nicer, more nuanced dessert than this. I definitely would have preferred a third savory course in place of the dessert.

Okay, so what did I think? The sushi was obviously very fresh and made with nicely flavored rice, and sure, the freshly grated wasabi was a nice touch (even though I don't generally use wasabi on my sushi), but to be honest, I was not completely blown away by it. Call my palette simple and unrefined, but I did not notice a substantial difference in the quality of the sushi at 15 East. Along with the fact that I was still hungry after a meal that came out to $50+ after tax and tip, I think that I could find better ways to spend that much money. You get what you pay for, and if I am ever on the lookout for some really high-quality, well-done sushi, I would surely consider coming to 15 East, but at this time, with my current (or lack thereof) funds available, I really cannot rationalize paying so much for sushi given the alternatives available.

15 East
15 E. 15th Street
New York, NY 10003

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