living underground in the real world

Your new favorite NYC restaurant: Kajitsu

So, we went.

DSCF8047

And as I predicted, it was amazing. I’m sorry, Hangawi, I’ve got to bump you down one spot: Kajitsu is now officially my new favorite restaurant in NYC, or, to be honest, pretty much the whole world. All vegan Zen Buddhist Kyoto-influenced (shojin) cuisine—is there anything else to say?

The night in pictures:

IMG_8118

First course, and I’m gonna straight up tell you: my least favorite. That reddish pool is umeboshi paste, and, having suffered through too many classes on the joys of umi at my macrobiotic-leaning cooking school, I am not a fan. It’s an ancient Japanese condiment, but to me it tastes one-dimensionally salty salty salty. But the handmade lotus root “mochi” filled with shiso wasabi was delicious. And look that that adorable garnish: a ginkgo (I think) nut with a pea shoot poked into it.

IMG_8115

You already knew, dear internet, that I am constantly tossing off witticisms that make sane people (Veronica, on my right) slightly uncomfortable all the time, but now you know another truth about me: I have a freakishly small head.  (I also dress slightly like a nun.)

DSCF8041

Everyone always says it, and I suspect it sort of annoys Selma, but she is FREAKING ADORABLE.

DSCF8043

Back to the food: after the first course, soup, of course!

IMG_8132

And, oh, maybe my favorite. What is the secret of Japanese clear soups? I believe I have a special affinity for making soups. But I can’t make a perfectly clear broth with as much pristine flavor as I’ve had at Japanese shojin restaurants. This one was “clear soup with spring mountain yam filled with yamogi paste,” and oh, oh, oh. Transcendent. So much more flavor than a picture can convey.

IMG_8138

DSCF8042

Juan, Than (I love it when JuanThan are together! Say it: wonton!!), Jacob, and Carolanne, Selma’s unintentionally-hilarious partner. Carolanne is one of those people who is constantly coming out with deadpan, oddball little speeches that make me laugh every time, though she’s not trying to be funny. She’s just bizarre in the way that all interesting people are, and I adore her.

DSCF8036

From top: spinach tossed with tofu paste, pine nuts and deep-fried fu (a bound salad, very creamy and nice); roasted corn purée over rice (garnished with cornsilk. Oh, the loveliness. I could eat this for breakfast for the rest of eternity), carrot pâté with mustard miso and, if I am remembering right, those tiny dots on top of the pâté are shoyu “caviar.”

I think the caviar was made with a caviar machine, something I have been keeping in the back of my head as a future project. The pâté was most likely made with agar-agar, it was firm, sliceable, and ultra carroty.

What is fu? I didn’t know either, and I’m sort of ashamed I didn’t. Fu is a Japanese version of seitan (which is Chinese)! They gave Selma and I painfully adorable little booklets that explain it. At the end of this post I will scan in the relevant pages.

DSCF8037

YUMS.

Oh, and the dishes. Apparently a lot of them are Japanese antiques, some up to 200 years old! We were very very careful with our chopsticks after hearing that.

DSCF8039

Homemade soba noodles—very hard to make because buckwheat (the primary flour in soba noodles) has no gluten, making it super hard to work with. These were cold, with nama (=super high quality) shoyu and the requisite scallions and very high-quality (but I do not think real) wasabi.

IMG_8163

We all adored our smart, awesomely-coiffed, sweet waitress. She put up with Selma’s and my endless questions with complete aplomb, even when Selma wanted to know how she could cook the bamboo in her yard like the bamboo in this dish.

IMG_8168

IMG_8170

Grilled fresh bamboo shoots from Kyoto with vegetable tempura and deep-fried fu. There was also a delicate little millet cake, and shiso-wrapped white asparagus tempura that melted my heart. I usually don’t eat white asparagus because it strikes me as somehow miserable that the spears are deprived of all sunlight so they retain their pale beauty. Poor asparagus (yes, you can roll your eyes at my tenderheartedness)! Eggless tempura is a feat, indeed, and here it was executed flawlessly—it wasn’t cloyingly thick or heavy or anything other than absolutely appropriate.

A Bloodrootie in NYC is a rare occurrence, and Selma and Carolanne were recognized by not one, but two devoted Bloodrootistas: one was a woman eating at the restaurant whose parents live near Selma and Carolanne and who used to come to the restaurant before she moved to NYC, then this young woman, a former Bloodroot cook, dropped by when she heard Selma would be in town. Selma introduced us and I promptly forgot her name.

IMG_8176

The dishes kept coming out (can you believe this entire meal was just $70 per person? Plus some of the most amazing sakes on this side of the planet.): rice with snap peas accompanied by house-made pickled vegetables. Little French Breakfast radishes, picked with their greens still attached, perfectly crispy and deliciously pickley.

IMG_8179

IMG_8153

Now the sweets: “Japanese pastry made of blueberry-infused mochi” shaped to look like the irises in season now. Selma rightfully pointed out that blueberries won’t be in season for another month or so, but these were delicious.

There were maybe three or four whole blueberries: two on the plate and one or two inside, as well as the blueberry-infused adzuki, but the whole blueberries popped and exploded in your mouth and made you remember all over again why blueberries are so delicious.

IMG_8185

That experience is what I love most about fine dining: small plates and concentrated flavors reinforce the sumptuousness of pure ingredients. Particularly in Japanese cuisine, flavor is exemplified through subtraction: three blueberries taste somehow more of the pure essence of blueberry than an entire slice of blueberry pie.

IMG_8192

My experience with blueberries in this dish reminded me of the Infamous Plum Encounter from Milennium, (except that in this case the delicious plum wasn’t an aberration from the rest of the meal).

The mignardises were the little sugary candies designed to go with bitter, emerald-green, bamboo-whisked, frothy matcha tea.

DSCF8045

The circle, triangle and square is the logo of the restaurant, which was expertly explained to us by our waitress, and whose significance I have of course forgotten.

IMG_8205

It reminded me of other sugar candies I’ve had with other matcha tea in Kyoto:

tea

Selma gave the chef one of the cookbooks:

IMG_8206

And that was it.

We tumbled out into the sweet early summer air, feeling light and sated and perfectly at peace.

Then, the tragedy.

I forced everyone to go to a new vegan ice cream shop around the corner that replaced glorious tastes in our mouths with an onslaught of trashy sugar and soymilky ick. OK, so it’s sweetened with agave, that’s fine. I’d prefer a little real nice sugar instead of a headachey ton of agave syrup, but that’s just me. Even the coconut-based flavors didn’t do it for me. I’m just getting to this place where I don’t get excited just because ice cream is vegan, I also want it to be sophisticated and nuanced and good.

In short, Stogo = don’t go. I don’t know what people on SuperVegan are talking about. It gave us all instant sugar headaches and stomach aches and was just so….what can I say? American. Overdone. Too much and too little at the same time. I guess I’m happy they are there because boring mainstream people will now understand that their kind of ice cream can easily be vegan. It’s not my style—I’ll take blueberry-infused adzuki beans and bitter tea any day.

DSCF8051

(Photos by me and Than Luu.)

July 2009 updates:

  • Jacob went again (I had to work, boo) and had their newest menu, which he actually liked better than this one. He reported: “I want to talk Kajitsu up to everyone because i want it to last for forever! it’s right now my favorite resto in NYC, if not tops in the world! and the menu changes every month, they serve amazing sake, it’s in the east village, what else do you need??!!!” Wow.
  • Then Veronica went with her family for her birthday : “It was exquisite! Everybody loved it, but how could they not? Our waiter was super nice, and he was talking to us about how he wants to own his own farm some day. He’s growing blue corn in the Bronx this year, and next year he hopes to grow vegetables they can use at the restaurant! Adorable! Also, they brought out an extra dessert for my birthday: Sesame tofu!!!  It had a cherry (and I think he said something about adzuki paste) sauce and a perfect little cherry on top, and it was AMAZING!”
  • Yeah, we’re all obsessed with this place, OK?

And now:

FU

fu-one

fu-two

fu-three

10 Responses to “Your new favorite NYC restaurant: Kajitsu”

  1. Jordan

    O.K. after this comment I will stop commenting on all your posts. That food looks so pretty it would be hard to eat. And I will never eat white asparagus again.

    Reply
  2. Veronica

    What a wonderful documentation! I loved everything about Kajitsu (the swoon-worthy food! The sake made with melted snow! The attention to detail! Our adorable waitress!) and wish them wonderful success.

    Caviar machine! Holy hell yes!

    I remember there were poppy seeds on the top of the carrot pate, as well as shoyu (dehydrated shoyu, I think I remember our waitress saying).

    If I had to pick a favorite dish I would agonize over it and not be able come up with one, but I will say that sometimes I dream of that corn soup and I too could eat it for breakfast everyday.

    Ah, Stogo. You pretty much summed it up in your post, but here are my two cents: I know everyone has their different tastes and that’s all fine and dandy, but I can’t understand what the fuss is all about either. (A good reinforcement not to always believe the hype!) All I tasted was a not-so-great-textured, not-so-great-flavored, unsatisfying, sickeningly sweet mass of…. something. I’m not even sure what. It had no depth, it didn’t taste real, and it didn’t taste clean, even being sweetened with agave. If this is the direction the vegan world is heading in it makes me depressed.

    Reply
  3. chad

    You can acutally by vegan caviar if you do not wish to make it.
    http://store.foodfightgrocery.com/vegancaviar.html
    However, if you do… the ‘caviar machine’ is unnecessary for small amounts. All you need is a squeeze bottle, some sodium alginate (derived from seaweed), and a calcium source for the calcium bath… all that and of course, a whole lot of patience for learning how to get the ratios correct. It can be made from a huge variety of water-based liquids provided you can balance the pH.
    We don’t really use the ‘machine’ anymore.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      WOW, thanks Chad! I am a GIANT FAN of yours! I so adore your blog, thanks so much for the info.

      Reply
  4. Dayna

    Wow! What a great pictoral critique! And all the diners are adorable, not just Selma :) I will have to try this soon!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 141 other followers

%d bloggers like this: