It's a beautiful, sunny day on 15th Street in New York, and inside its resident Japanese restaurant (appropriately named 15 East), the chef behind the sushi bar picks up a still-alive-and-kicking sweet shirmp, its beady black eyes staring blankly as its body bucks and thrashes. And then, a deft maneuver as the chef turns his back–did he use a knife or his bare hands?–and the ama ebi is beheaded. The group of young adults who sit at the sushi bar stare aghast as the chitinous carapace with attached antennas and legs (now a centerpiece for the assorted sushi palette presented to them) still twitches. Its body, shelled and pink and delectable, has just been served as nigiri, ready to be eaten and enjoyed as only freshly killed sea creatures can be.
The onlookers didn't flinch. They didn't gasp. They giggled and gawked for a moment and then dived in, oblivious to the ongoing but ever-decreasing flails of the fading crustacean's appendages. Several minutes later, I glanced over and sure enough, the thing was still moving.
It doesn't get better than live, and those who have consumed sweet shrimp as fresh as this know that it makes all the difference in taste. Just make sure you don't scream and drop the head should you pick it up by its feelers to pose it for a picture like I did, thinking it's dead since it's been severed from the rest of its body for longer than five minutes and it's no longer even spasming, and the head suddenly begins to thrash violently in response...unless you want a good laugh.
At 15 East, be prepared to spend top dollar for top-quality sushi that's a bit on the traditional side: $6 for a single piece of soy-marinated tuna zuke nigiri, $6 for one of the oh-so-rare and strong-flavored shako (mantis shrimp); and as much as $12 for uni or otoro. Want a roll? Be willing to pay $18 for a six-piece negi toro maki. Or for something different, how about a plate of six kumamoto oysters served with pickled radish for $21? The wasabi here is raw and real but for some reason, strangely and soothingly mild. The chef grates it from a stalk of wasabi until a mushy, light green muck begins to mound on the plate.
15 E. 15th Street, New York, NY