One of New York's most popular and best-reviewed sushi spots is losing its marquee chef. Masato "Masa" Shimizu, who opened 15 East with Marco Moreira and Joann Makovitzky in 2006, will leave the Michelin-starred restaurant this summer and move to Bangkok with his wife, who is Thai. His last day will be July 1st or thereabouts.
Makovitzky told Eater this morning that she hopes to open a "similar restaurant" in Bangkok with with Shimizu. "We're still deciding exactly how that's going to work out." She and Moreira also run Tocqueville, a fine dining establishment on the same block as 15 East, as well as Botequim, a Brazilian meatery at the Hyatt Union Square.
Masato's second and third-in-command, who have worked with the chef for over twelve years, will remain at 15 East, as will the rest of the team, but the owners haven't yet decided whether to promote someone from within to lead the sushi bar, or whether to hire an external candidate.
The Japan-born Masato apprenticed for seven years under Rikio Kugo at Tokyo's Sukeroku before moving to New York, where he spent four years at Jewel Bako. He would go on to open 15 East in December of 2006. Masato, who will remain a partner in the restaurant when he leaves, is famous for breaking out sushi textbooks mid-meal to show customers what part of a fish a particular cut comes from.
"He really wants the customers to be excited about the product, and be educated," Makovitzky says. "And I think helps break down the barrier of being intimidated about ordering things."
Will Makovitzky be able to replicate Masato's high-energy style with another candidate?
"A lot of our team members share in [Masato's] enthusiasm as well. He taught them to relax behind the bar. There are some customers who come in and want to sit in front of a different sushi chef. Each of them adds their own specialness to the restaurant."
In the meantime, diners who still want to dine on Shimizu's sushi before he leaves should try to book a seat at the sushi bar by calling 212-647-0015. The sooner the better.