15 East (NYC): What Omakase Dreams Are Made Of

15 East had been on my bucket list since I moved to NYC in 2012, so when L decided to take me there for my birthday this year, I went into the night with bated breath due to long-awaited anticipation. And let’s not bury the lede: go there, go there often (slash if/when budget allows), and never question how it’s possible for heaven to exist on earth in the form of an 11 out of 10 sushi omakase experience.

For starters, imagine my delight when we ended up being seated at the sushi bar right in front of the legendary Chef Masa (!). At the time, we didn’t realize it was one of his last months here in NYC prior to relocating to Bangkok – so, in retrospect, an even more memorable experience. We both settled on the “Chef’s Tasting Menu”, especially knowing he was to be our guy for the night.

Behold – Chef Masa aka the ultimate sushi god.

Let me start by saying that while definitely a splurge – around $500 for two people including the tasting menu, a few beers, and several carafes of sake – it was absolutely worthwhile. Course after course after course, we were presented with mouth-watering bites of flawless perfection. Here are some highlights:

Handmade soba topped with sweet Maine uni at 15 East.
Handmade soba topped with sweet Maine uni at 15 East.

As part of the initial appetizers, we were served the first of three sea urchin courses: perfectly cooked soba that’s handmade in-house each day, topped with a generous clump of rich and creamy Maine uni. I love my soba and have had a good amount in my day, but this is by far one of the top three I’ve tasted – ever. Fresh ingredients, delicate taste, and a perfect flavor combo. #bowdown

The perfect bite of Santa Barbara uni at 15 East.
The perfect bite of Santa Barbara uni at 15 East.

Of course, no sushi experience is complete without a generous morsel of my favorite sea urchin variety – Santa Barbara uni. And not surprisingly, this one did not disappoint. Buttery sweet and oh so creamy, I’m convinced there is no greater bite in the world.

Hokkaido uni at 15 East.
The leaning tower of Hokkaido uni at 15 East.

The third and final uni course was spectacular. Five beautiful, succulent pieces (aka an entire urchin’s worth) of melt-in-your-mouth Hokkaido uni that tasted as smooth as the ocean. Delicious. Throughout the meal, Chef Masa and I chatted quite a bit about sea urchin, including the different varieties out there and what our respective favorites are. His? Aka uni, a fantastic Japanese variety that’s only available in July and August. Yum.

Some other snapshots below…try not to lick the screen.

Sushi chef at work plating dish after dish of uni for non-sushi bar patrons.
Sushi chef at work plating dish after dish of uni for non-sushi bar patrons.
This was my view during dinner. Took all of my self-control to not break through the glass...
This was my view during dinner. Took serious self-control not to break through the glass…
If you don't like fatty marbly melt-in-your-mouth toro...we will never be friends.
If fatty marbly melt-in-your-mouth toro doesn’t make your knees weak…we can never be friends.
Besides uni, my other love is West Coast oysters. These Kumamoto oysters were served in a delicately sweet ponzu sauce and plump and tender as can be.
Uni is my first love, but West Coast oysters come in a close second. These Kumamotos were served in a delicate and sweet ponzu sauce, and out-of-control plump and creamy.

And of course, we can’t forget about dessert! I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth – except when it comes to my uni – so I went for my usual order aka an extra plate of the best bite from the night. That evening it was the one from Santa Barbara, and Chef Masa happily presented me with the perfect last bite to top off an unforgettable meal.

Dessert aka what else but an extra helping of Santa Barbara uni?
Dessert…what else but an extra helping of Santa Barbara uni?

15 East – Pros:

  • Chef Masa and the other sushi chefs made a great meal spectacular thanks to their incredibly friendly and engaging personas. Each time a course was served, he would grab the same Japanese picture book about different varieties of fish and shellfish from the shelf behind the bar and provide a quick little tutorial behind what we were about to taste – complete with a visual explanation. Quite a special touch that we found to be really neat and enjoyable, as their passion for the craft was contagious.
  • Unlike many sushi restaurants, the sushi bar and regular dining room were completely separate. And with 9 seats only in a spacious and chic atmosphere, the experience felt super exclusive but still very personal.
  • The service was spectacular. Chef Masa even presented me with a chocolate dessert complete with a “Happy Birthday” message towards the end of the meal. I’m sure they do this for all diners celebrating something special but it was still appreciated – especially by L, who actually likes “real” dessert and therefore gobbled the entire thing down.
  • One of my biggest gripes about highly-celebrated sushi restaurants is the experience can sometimes feel rushed as they push for multiple dinner seatings and shuffle people in and out as quickly as possible. 15 East is not one of those places. Not once during our 2.5 hour dinner did the experience feel anything but pleasant and relaxed.

15 East – Cons:

  • Again, the $500+ price tag (including alcohol) is a bit extreme, but worth every bite – especially for a special occasion.

Rating [out of 5]: ★★★★★

15 E 15th St, New York, NY

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