I read about Kajitsu 414 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10009 on No Recipes, when Marc interviewed Chef Masato Nishihara, back in August. I was eager to go and experience Shojin cuisine, an ancient Japanese style developed in Zen Buddhist monasteries, a style I’m unfamiliar with. The restaurant is vegan.

at Kajitsu

I wondered if I would leave satisfied. I wondered if I would feel like I was eating diet food. All those thoughts happened in the days coming up to the meal but we started eating (choice of two sizes in tasting menus) and before I knew it, I was already feeling full with two courses left. This isn’t the place for everyone, especially those who like to be packed in like sardines, rubbing elbows with others trying to rub elbows. This place is serene, a retreat from NYC, and I suggest you start with some tea.  I loved the Hojicha (roasted geen tea) so much, I purchased a bag of it to take home.

Chef Masato is amazing, just 32 years old, having worked his way up for 10 years in Kyoto. He is not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, himself, but finds the limitations of working without fish and meat challenging and interesting.

Chef Masato Nishihara 2

The first of my eight courses was one of my favorites because there was so much on the plate and everything was like a little surprise. It’s meant to be a sampling of osechi, traditional Japanese New Year’s foods. Let’s just start with that soy candied pecan, just lightly sweet. Right behind it is a ball of Kuri Kinton (sweet potato and chestnut) with two of the most delicious black beans. They were like soft bean candy. Some fried taro with dots of hoisin are back left, next to lotus root salad that is hidden behind snow peas. Konyaku gives some salty and bounce.  The pickled radish slaw with crispy pickled crosnes provide a cool tart accent. The temari-fu, or ball of wheat gluten, is like extra bouncy mochi, with green tea noodle on top, meant to look like pine needles. It’s a lot to take in, like a kid at a candy store give no limitations.

Assortment of Seasonal Vegetables 2

The Clear Soup is pure and lightly flavored, allowing the Grilled Mochi to act as centerpiece, decorated with carrots cut like plum blossoms and a thin sheet of daikon, as if a modesty veil is needed.

Clear Soup with Grilled Mochi 2

Lotus Root Isobe-Yaki seems to packs of sticky rice and lotus root with nori bottoms, seared for lightly crisped tops. These were a bit less interesting than the other offerings.

Lotus Root Isobe-Yaki

The House-made Soba Noodles are wonderful, with that fresh bounce that is visible when you stick your chopsticks in. The dip and dab of wasabi is usual.

House-made Soba

The house-made tofu is among the softest, smoothest, and purest, heightened by the phenomenal Ankake sauce (I think a thickened dashi).

Ankake Tofu

The tofu was served with tempura, a wonderful contrast in texture and weight. As perfectly fried as these pieces of asparagus, sweet potato, and oyster mushroom were, I’m generally not ever so impressed with Tempura, but these did have something special, a dusting of their wonderful Shichimi (which they also sell).

Tempura

Next, an adorable three piece set-up where a bowl of Multi-grain rice is centerpiece, and yes, good fragrant rice can be a centerpiece all by itself (as opposed to the side).

Multi-Grain Rice

The White Miso Soup knocked my socks off though, a depth of flavor that hit much deeper than any of the other dishes, one that could compete with a meat broth. The pieces of Nama-fu were like sweet sponges that soaked up the soup.

White Miso Soup

The Pickled Vegetables were wonderful for acting salty accents.

Pickled Vegetables

Moving on to sweet, the Steamed Manju is in between bun and cake, a thin layer, filled with red bean paste.

Steamed Manju

The Rakugan Candies were beautiful but I didn’t risk eating them because of my food coloring allergy.

Rakugan Candies

The chef whisks together fresh Matcha Green Tea to finish your meal.

matcha green tea

Lastly, a Kinako Sorbet sitting it a airy rice cracker.

kinako sorbet

I really enjoyed this meal ($70 tasting menu), the aspects of perfectionism, balance, and peace. I felt like dinner was both therapy and an education. I’m not sure everyone would appreciate it. I’m pretty sure Lon wouldn’t because he doesn’t like mochi, soft tofu, or green tea. But, if this meal looks interesting to you, and you’re just apprehensive about a vegan meal, let me be the meat-lover to tell you that this was very enjoyable for me. Since they change their menu monthly (and you can see how different it was when Marc went), I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to see what Chef Masato is doing in the spring.

posted by jessica at 09:28 AM Filed under Asian, Restaurants. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.