I still remember the subtle delights from my first trip to Kajitsu back in 2010: the juxtaposition of grilled mochi on raw, flaky layers of lotus root cake, an osechi box full of foods I’d never heard of, let alone tasted. With chef Masato Nishihara’s departure from the restaurant looming, my group of dining pals and I stopped by for a final taste of his food before a new chef (Ryota Ueshima) takes over and Kajitsu moves to Midtown.
The eight-course, $70 Hana tasting:
nagaimo hishimochi (Japanese yam) with spring vegetables and sweet soy gelée
grated kohlrabi soup with grilled gomadofu, karashi, fresh green peppercorn
smoked satoimo (taro) with tofu-yo sauce; Brussels sprout with fukinoto paste; spring scallions with white wood ear mushrooms and mustard miso; kabochafu (pumpkin wheat gluten) with red miso; kaffir lime and lemon grass
simmered young bamboo shoots with artichoke tempura, fava beans, mitsuba (stone parsley), wakame (seaweed)
shredded phyllo-wrapped mugwort nama-fu (wheat gluten) with house-made Worcester sauce; grilled cabbage, arugula sprouts and watermelon radish; snap peas with parsnip puree; sautéed glass noodles, kinugasa mushrooms and leeks in corn husk
steamed rice with chaju mushrooms, yuba, and grilled water chestnuts; nori, sesame, and dashi, with housemade pickles
cherry blossom mochi, salted cherry leaf
matcha with candies
Thanks to my dining companion cheeryvisage for her excellent memory; many of these are only labeled correctly because of her Flickr set.
When compared to the food at other high-end restaurants in the city, the food at Kajitsu can seem austere: an entire dish will be white or yellow, made up almost entirely of white rice or bamboo. No one flavor ever stands out, and even the tempuraed vegetables are tremendously fresh and light. I know that balance is sort of the point of this kind of food, but it can’t be stressed enough how subtle these dishes are, how you might get caught up in conversation and miss the simple perfection of a salted leaf or the smallest slice of peppercorn.
I love Kajitsu for the seasoned eater and the diner who’s never seen a fiddlehead fern in real life alike. The food is artful and exciting in its simplicity. The boxes filled with four different kinds of unrecognized vegetation dazzle the eye, and the dishes served in covered bowls build anticipation. I didn’t once miss the meat during this tasting and instead delighted in knowing that I wasn’t going to run into a single sinew or bone. With this two-Michelin-starred restaurants in town, vegetarians have it pretty good.
414 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10009 (map)