15 East is the Japanese restaurant that blossomed out of the old Tocqueville space, when co-owners Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky moved that Union Square standout two years ago to larger digs down the block. The odd-shaped room always seemed too small for Tocqueville—the owners obviously thought so too—but in its new guise it seems just about right.
The front room, which formerly housed Tocqueville’s bar, now has a sushi bar. The layout isn’t ideal, since guests waiting to be seated hang out in the same room, but the bar seating appeared to be comfortable. As there were four of us, we were seated in the main dining room, which has been attractively re-decorated. We had the restaurant to ourselves when we arrived at 6:00 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, but the space was mostly full a couple of hours later.
The menu offers a wide range of appetizers ($6–22) and a smaller selection of entrées ($24–45). Sushi ranges from $4–12 per piece, rolls $5–18. Omakases and tasting menus range from $55–120.
The composed appetizers and main courses may even be more compelling here than the sushi. The amuse-bouche was a terrific spring pea tofu (right). We followed it up with the slow-poached octopus ($12; below left) that was the highlight in Frank Bruni’s two-star review.
Servers told Bruni that the octopus was “massaged 500 times.” We didn’t know that, but perhaps it explains the terrific fatty taste that reminded me of pork belly.
Tuna tartare ($22; above right) is the most expensive appetizer, but the kitchen throws a party in its honor, spraying the plate with a spice confetti.
The entry-level omakase offers ten pieces of sushi or sashimi for $55 (above left). For a party of four businessmen, the chef sends out safe choices. The rice was warm and each piece was individually seasoned, but you’ll probably have a more interesting meal if you order pieces individually, or order one of the more expensive tasting menus. One of our party did not want raw fish, so he ordered the Wild Salmon Five Ways ($26, above right), which he seemed pleased with.
The service here is more accomplished and elegant than at most mid-level Japanese restaurants. There was a hint of upselling, but the captain’s ordering advice was sound, and he picked a fine sake to go along with our meal.
15 East (15 East 15th Street between Fifth Avenue and Union Square)