Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Artistry, tradition and vegetables - Kajitsu

One of the many reasons we are blessed to live in New York City is that we have a restaurant for just about every possible situation. Do your parents travel the world eating at the finest restaurants while your spouse's swear by Yellowtail Chardonnay and Olive Garden? Chances are we have a restaurant that will make them both happy.

In my case I have a sister who is a Vegan. This greatly reduces the number of restaurants we can enjoy together.  I wanted to take her out to a special dinner for her birthday. This turned out to be a problem easily solved. The answer was Kajitsu.

Kajitsu is a Japanese restaurant that serves Shojin ryori cuisine. Shojin is a vegetarian cuisine that originated in Zen Buddhist monasteries. The entire meal is plant based. There are no animal products involved at all. All the of the food is seasonal and changes monthly. Kajitsu serves their food in multi-course meals known as kaiseki.  Every course is thoughtfully prepared and designed to highlight the ingredients. Even the serving ware is chosen to enhance and compliment the dishes.

Kajitsu recently moved from a small space in the East Village to a larger two story space in Murray Hill. The restaurant itself is austere and serene. Blond wood abounds with minimal decorative touches. Service is warm but unobtrusive and very professional. A team of two served us, bringing each drink and dish one by one with the placement of every glass and bowl deliberate. Every dish was described in detail with suggestions on how to eat them. We sprang for the Sake pairing, which was well worth it. Each pairing was brought to the table before the corresponding food course came and a description and origin was given.

The food at Kajitsu is a wonder. The range of tastes, flavors and textures amazes. Some of it is challenging, some of it is sublime. The various versions of tofu that Chef Ryotu Ueshima prepares are worth a visit alone. If you have an adventurous palate and an open mind Kajitsu will delight you. If you are a dedicated meat eater it will open your eyes.

Kajitsu offers 3 different menus. A four course "Kaze", an eight course "Hana" and an eight course "Seasonal" menu. At $55, $85 and $100 respectively they are not inexpensive, but this is not your local ramen or sushi joint. This is the opportunity to experience a master, Mr. Ueshima, at work. Kajitsu combines great food, an artist's eye and Japanese tradition resulting in a memorable experience.

To do the meal justice I want to finish this post with photos of the meal, the restaurant's descriptions and just a few notes from myself. But before that I have few observations. Being a typical carnivore, I was worried I would be hungry after the meal, even at eight courses. I was a fool. I was incredibly full when the long, leisurely meal was over. This was a fullness I had not experienced before. Unlike the fullness you get eating Barbecue or too much Chinese delivery, there was no food coma, no feeling that my arteries were clogging or that my heart was going to stop. I was not sleepy or bloated. I was just, simply, full. They next morning, I was was still full. I was not famished. I was not craving carbs or sweets. I was full. Perhaps there is something to the idea of eating more of a plant based diet. Just don't tell my sister I said that.

We had the"Hana" menu at Kajitsu. Please note it will be different by August 1.

Course 1 - Chilled Paprika-Tofu

Green bell pepper, fava bean, tomato-fu, basil

Course 2 - Yuba Wrapped Morel Mushroom and Hijiki

Nori, scallion, fried tofu

Fried pockets with morels in a deep, rich stew. Once the wrap and tofu are eaten, your pour a warm seaweed broth into the bowl which transforms the stew into a soup. Heavenly.

Course 3 - Astuage Steak and Rolled Summer Hakusai with Grilled Tomato

Tofu, white mushroom, pak choy, scallion, daikon, ginger, eggplant, potato, zucchini, broccoli, snap pea, fennel, red bell pepper, nappa cabbage, jicama

The grilled yellow tomato, lower left, was stunning. Juicy, warm, salty and acidic, it will have me scouring the green markets in search of local tomatoes. I will be grilling tomatoes all summer trying to recreate this one bite.

The tofu on the upper left of the plate was tremendous. Fried and served with a sharp, savory relish it will make the case for tofu for every carnivore who tastes it.

Course 4 - House Made Soba with Tempura

Umeboshi, rikyu-fu, shiso, fig

Earthy, cold soba noodles. Exemplary. Tempura. Eggplant, wheat gluten, shiso leaf and fig. Four flavors, four textures. Perfection.

Course 5 - Assorted Early Summer Vegetable and Sushi "Somin-Shourai"

Sun dried tomato, kanpyo, black sesame, teared kombu, myoga, plum, sweet onion, white asparagus, chayote, daikon

Remarkable. The sweet onion jellee was incredible.

Course 6 - Sukiyaki Donburi

15grain rice, konnyaku, scallion, choji-fu, cabbage, sansho powder, mountain yam, nori flake, morning radish

A deeply satisfying rice bowl. With every bite I wondered how it could be so rich and savory with out any trace of beef or pork.

The chef's house made pickle that accompanied the Sukiyaki. White asparagus. Subtle and delicious. A green leaf. Sour and pungent. Plum. The plum was one of the single most strange, challenging, unique and enjoyable things I have ever eaten.

Course 7 - Match-Yokan

Azuki-bean, tapioca

Course 8 - Matcha with Candies by Kyoto Kagizen-Yoshifusa

Slightly sweet.

Matcha green tea. Thick, frothy and green. Surprising and good. A perfect ending.

Kajitsu - 125 East 39th Street (between Park & Lexington) -


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