Kajitsu, NYC 2

February 22, 2010

On February 16, 2010, Linda and I returned to Kajitsu with Jo-Ann and Michael. To read about the Shojin background of Kajitsu go to our blogpost from our November meal there: click here.

This time we were seated at the table under the front window with a view down the counter of the chef working and the kitchen beyond. The chef, Masato Nishihara, 32, does the final preparation of all dishes himself. It is not clear how the kitchen operates as we could not see into it. I have read that there are three cooks there. Counter seats seem to be reserved for Japanese speakers; the chef appears to enjoy chatting with them as he works. He does not speak English.

The sake menu arrived right away and we ordered a bottle of
Junmai, Yamanashi.

Described in the menu as:
Very smooth with well balanced taste, using excellent underground water from Mount Fuji.

We didn’t really look at the main menu as we had decided beforehand to have the eight-course Hana menu for February. A small printed menu was brought to us to consult during the meal. Although each dish was described to us in detail by our excellent waiter, it was a lot to absorb while admiring the newly arrived plate.

The first course was 
Steamed Hearts of Palm with Plum Sauce
Daikon Radish, Menegi

The slices of hearts of palm had been steamed over dashi. There was a mound of fresh, light, finely grated white radish topped with the plum sauce and a dot of wasabe. The flavors were elegant and complementary with the two radishes offset by the mild sweetness of the other two.

Sake-kasu Soup with Daikon and Leeks
Enoki Mushrooms, Japanese Taro, White Miso

Sake-kasu is rice left over from making sake. The mixture of the various white ingredients created a thick soup which pleasantly filled the mouth without being assertive.

“7 Gems” Sushi Roll, Plum Nama-Fu, Roasted Nuts and Soybeans Tossed with Tea Leaves
Lotus Root, Soybeans, Cashews, Peanuts, Pine Nuts, Mizuna, Cherry Tomatoes

You can see the chef, Masato Nishihara, preparing this dish. On the big plate are three slices of a sushi roll filled with seven vegetables. To their left is a ginger relish that gives them some needed spark. In front is a slice of pickled lotus root which has been coated in freeze-dried rice to create a sparkling snowflake. The small plate has a complicated mixture of nuts etc in a tea leaf dressing. The plum blossom is made of fruit-flavored wheat gluten. This course is uncharacteristically complicated for Nishihara. I found it enjoyable, but less so than the others as it did not make a consistent statement.

We started drinking a new bottle of sake,
Denshin Yuki
Junmai Ginjo, Fukui.

Descibed in the menu as:
Dry, pure and gentle with a fragrant and refreshing taste.


Grilled Nama-Fu with Simmered Napa Cabbage

The grilled nama-fu flavored with millet was lighter than the typical seitan or raw wheat gluten which can be too heavy. (The owner of Kajitsu is heir to a 250-year-old fu manufacturer in Kyoto.) The cabbage has been simmered in dashi, or kelp broth, which brings out flavor. This seemingly simple dish was very enjoyable.

Seasonal Vegetable Stew Served over Fried House-Made Soba Noodles
Cauliflower, Bamboo Shoots, Trumpet Royal Mushrooms, Carrots, Lilly Bulbs, Green Peas

The chef is known for his home-made soba, or buckwheat noodles. Chef Nishihara was executive chef at Tohma, a soba kaiseki restaurant in Nagano for two years before coming to New York last year. Here the soba have been fried very crisp so they make a contrast in texture, but not in flavor, to the stewed winter vegetables. If you think of the vegetables as a single element, the dish takes on a characteristic simplicity. (The serving bowl is on a hot rock so they stay warm for the second helping.)

We started drinking a new bottle of sake,
Junmai Dai Ginjo, Fukui

Described in the menu as:
Powerful, complex aroma and elegant flavor with dry finish.

This sake was significantly more expensive than the other two, but we did not enjoy it as much. It was true that it had a more complex flavor, but we did not find that as pleasant, or as good a match with the cuisine, as the other two. We preferred the clarity of their flavor.  I wonder if a Japanese diner just starting to learn about European wine would have the same lack of appreciation of the complexities of the more expensive wines. 

Steamed Rice with Grilled Turnips
Crispy Turnip Leaves
House-made Pickles

A picturesque small grilled turnip is perched on top of a mound of sticky rice with diced grilled turnip. We crumbled the dried turnip leaves on top, which let them retain their crispness and nice contrast with the rice. What really makes this dish special are the three kinds of superb home-made pickles alongside. One of them is made from the seaweed remaining after preparing dashi.

Sesame Milk Brulée with Dried Persimmons Soaked in Rum

The chef finished this takeoff on crème brulée with a blowtorch at the counter. Home-made sesame paste replaced the usual custard. Very good.

Matcha Tea Served with Candies by Suetomi Sweet Shop

The chef whisked and frothed the green tea powder at the end of the counter near us. I imagine that it is made from high quality tea; the flavor was lovely.  It is a refreshing way to end a meal.

Last August Nishihara was interviewed by a Japanese-American food blogger.

Marc: Many chefs here like to integrate Japanese flavours and techniques into their cuisine. What would be your advice for someone that wants to truly understand the essence of Japanese cooking?

Chef Nishihara: If adding doesn’t work, take away.

The chef serves an entirely different menu each calendar month. He must spend a lot of time creating and testing.  To see a post from another blogger on the previous month’s Hana menu with lovely photos click here. Our last blogpost on Kajitsu was for the November menu.

Our meal was very satisfying. We had a very good feeling of an evening well spent and it wasn’t just because of the sake. The meal is composed to keep your appetite and your eye intrigued for several hours. The chef must be constantly searching for a wide variety of ingredients within the limits permitted in Shojin cuisine, both from Japan and locally. Perhaps one gets less palate fatigue when the interest is in the flavors and textures of the ingredients rather than the sauces.




One Response to “Kajitsu, NYC 2”

  1. Jo-Ann Says:

    Reads and looks as delicious as it was. Thanks for a great time.


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