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Katz' s Deli
205 E Houston Street, New York City, Feb 23 2013
The first stop on our culinary adventure was Katz's (pronounced Cats) Deli, a New York institution since its opening in 1888. We are conveniently staying on the Lower East Side only two blocks from Katz's, so it was no problem to walk over for a sammich. To understand why I call sandwiches, "sammiches", you may have to look over here at and algorithm from my medicine blog.
Katz's is famous for both their pastrami sandwich, and their history of being a backdrop for movies. Two of the more famous scenes filmed in Katz's are the "I'll have what she's having" scene in When Harry Met Sally, and the meeting scene in Donnie Brasco. The Meg Ryan scene is embedded below and linked to here. If you haven't seen it, you may not want to turn it on at work, lol.
When you walk into Katz's, you get a meal ticket, which you are instructed not to lose. All your purchases go on the ticket, and you have to present it upon leaving, regardless of whether you eat anything. I'm not sure what the penalty is if you don't present the ticket.
I decided to try the famous Pastrami sandwich on rye, while Camille went for an order of potato latkes.
First, the bad. The latkes are heavily deep fried at Katz's, and this unfortunately gives them the consistency of medium density fibreboard (MDF). Think of a potato+glue+sawdust mixture thrown in a deep fryer. Not good! Latkes should be fried with a crunchy exterior, but still maintain a soft, fluffy texture on the inside. They should not be a homogeneous mass. Plus, these sit like a brick in your stomach.
Next up was the sammich. Fortunately, this did not disappoint. Two thin slices of light rye, dijon mustard (not sure if commercial or proprietary blend) and a heap of pastrami. The meat was ultra tender and moist, and shockingly was not salty. The flavors were reminiscent of childhood, and somehow reminded me of hot dogs and bologna, which was pretty unexpected. There was also a mild smokiness to the meat, and a good ratio of meat to fat (about 25-30% fat). You can order extra lean if you want for a dollar extra. Overall, this was an excellent sandwich, and we ranked it near the top of our pastrami/smoked meat sandwich pyramid.
Pickles: When you order a sandwich, you get 3 half sour and 3 regular pickles. They were solid, but nothing spectacular.
Beer: I chose a Katz's Ale to go with the meal and it was better than expected. Nice molasses and honey flavors, smooth and easy drinking.
Overall, Katz's is as much about experience as the food, as there is a great deal of interesting history on the walls of this NYC establishment. Stick with the classic pastrami and don't "have what she's having" if it's potato latkes. It'll sound a lot more like a beached whale than an orgasm.
After Katz's earlier in the day, we headed to Pouring Ribbons for a few drinks before dinner. Our first dinner would be at 15 East, the beautiful restaurant of Masato Shimizu, who wins my award for most personable and hilarious sushi master ever. The highlight of the meal was interacting with Masa, as well as the party of 3 next to us at the sushi bar.
Background: 15 East is one of the consensus top tier sushi restaurants in Manhattan. It was opened by Masato Shimizu 6 years ago, and Masato (Masa for short) came from Japan. Regarding reservations, you can book online through Open Table, but in order to sit at the sushi bar (which I'd highly recommend), you must call and request by phone.
As an aside on sushi in NYC, Masa (Run by Masa Takayama) in Times Square is the only Michelin 3 star (BTW, I'm not a big fan of the Michelin Guide) sushi restaurant in NYC, but this has more to do with extravagant luxury ingredients used in every course than anything else. A meal at Masa will run you $400-1000/pp, while Omakase at 15 East is $65-95 and a full Kaiseki meal is $120.
15 East is a lovely space; after entering you may go left to sit in the main dining room, or right to sit at the sushi bar. This separation of the two areas is great as it offers an intimate option for couples in the main room, and a more interactive environment at the sushi counter.
Sitting down at the sushi bar, we decided on the sashimi and sushi Omakase. Having had a drink already at Pouring Ribbons, we chose a roasted tea to go with dinner. Much like at Raku in Las Vegas, this was a roasted and fermented tea, and paired great with the fish because of its heavy body, bite and moderately tannic finish. It was also replaced with fresh glasses 3 times during the meal, even when we had yet to finish it. This was a nice touch, as the tea was always hot.
To start we had an amuse bouche of pickled daikon radish (not pictured). Simple, clean and palate cleansing.
The first course was slow poached octopus with sea salt. Buttery, good texture and mild in flavor. A solid octopus dish.
The sashimi course was composed of two pieces of six fish, plus one ebi (shrimp). The highlights were the arctic char, gruntfish and bluefin otoro. Surprisingly, our consensus #1 was the arctic char, which had great texture and flavour. The gruntfish was seared with a blowtorch, giving it great textural contrast between outer seared portion and the soft, inner flesh. The otoro was extremely marbled, with the appearance and texture of Kobe beef. The others were all above average, but again did not blow us away. We will have to start seeking out more arctic char. At this point in the meal, I was a bit underwhelmed, but things would improve from here.
The sushi course began with a Japanese sea perch (not pictured), cherry salmon and the cooked shrimp head from our earlier sashimi course. The sea perch was excellent, and the cherry salmon was the first "wow" bite of the meal. It has a supple texture and is much lighter/less oily than any regular salmon. According to Masa, cherry salmon only grows to about 18 inches in length, so is completely different than other salmon. Truly a delicacy. We ordered a second piece after our set nigiri course was finished. The ebi head was very good. Mmmm, tasty brains.
This was my first time with golden snapper, and it is much softer and creamier in texture than it’s red cousin. Chu-toro, which comes from the back of the tuna, is a less expensive and less fatty version of otoro. This chu-toro was still more marbled than most, and tasted great.
There were three types of uni available on this night, Santa Barbara, Maine, and Hokkaido. The Californian sea urchin was fresh, with typical ocean and salt flavors. Camille is not super fond of uni, which is understandable given its polarizing texture and flavour profile. However, the Hokkaido uni was a revelation for us both, as it is much milder, with a creamier texture and more delicate flavors than the North American varieties. It is also much more expensive, unfortunately. For those out there who dislike uni, you should definitely give Japanese uni a chance. It is exquisite. For the last bite of the tasting, I had anago (saltwater eel), which was good, but not quite to the standard of Kabuto. Camille had salmon roe, which had great pop and salinity.
At this time we were quite full, and Chef Masa was in a great mood. It was the end of the night on Saturday, meaning another week of hard work complete. One girl in the party of three next to us knew Masa well and was a frequent guest, so Masa pulled out all the stops by making ridiculous hand rolls with scallop + uni, monkfish liver + uni, and an ultimate roll of scallop + monkfish liver + uni. These were massive hand rolls and probably were worth about $30-50 each, but he was giving them away. We had complimentary otoro hand rolls with a full handful of otoro in each. They were awesome. He also made this disgusting looking but awesome tasting concoction of scallop, uni and quail egg mixed together on a plate and served over rice. He said it was what his grandpa made for him as a child. That’s quite the childhood.
At one point in the hand roll making, Masa, broke a piece of seaweed and said “Ah, fuck” in a hilarious way that cracked the five of us up. He has a great personality and was very interactive with everyone. He also makes a point to educate his guests, which is much appreciated.
Though we were too full for dessert, we were comped two desserts by the chef. Both were delicious, light and refreshing. The Mineoka tofu is a house made cow's milk tofu set in kuromitsu syrup, it was creamy and the kuromitsu had deep, buckwheat honey like flavour. The trio of sorbets were all potently infused with their respective flavours.
Service: The service at 15 East is professional, courteous and efficient. Water and tea were refilled constantly, drips and drops wiped up promptly, and overall was unobtrusive once the meal began. After initially taking our order, there was really very little interaction with the service staff, as Masa himself chatted with us regularly.
15 East was a great experience, primarily because of Chef Masa. The sashimi course could have been a bit better, but the sushi course was fantastic. My biggest recommendation would be a late reservation on a Saturday night, as Chef Masa gets hilarious and generous when he knows the weekend is coming.