Kajitsu, NYC 4
September 11, 2012
We have enjoyed Kajitsu on previous visits for the imaginative cuisine of chef Masato Nishihara, which used vegetarian shojin techniques on a variety of seasonal ingredients. But the owner has a policy of rotating chefs into New York and so in May 2012 Nishihara was replaced by chef Ryota Ueshima, a veteran of, among others, the venerable Hyotei in Kyoto. Tony and I went to try his August menu on August 26, 2012.
We were seated at a table in the back room. The beverage menu was presented, but we told our genial waitress that we would have the sake pairings with the eight course HANA 花 menu. The course and sake descriptions below come from Kajitsu‘s website (except for the eggplant daily special, which we ordered as an extra to share.) The descriptions were always elaborated on as the dishes and sakes were served.
The meal started with
Chilled Ginger Tofu with Nori Seaweed Sauce
Wood Ear Mushroom, Green Chili Pepper, Bok Choy
茗荷 唐辛子 木耳 海苔ソース
The cube of tofu, hidden under its crisp garnishes in the photo, had a fragrant flavor of fresh ginger. The seaweed sauce was light and tasted of the sea, despite its forbidding dark color.
The sake was Matsuno Midori (Junmai Daiginjo) Kyoto: “Subtle aroma of young greens; long and slightly dry finish.”
Fried Asparagus Yuba Rolls
Japanese Pickled Plum Tempura
アスパラ湯葉巻き 梅の天ぷら 山椒ソース
Thick asparagus stalk slices were wrapped in tofu skin and deep fried. Little pepper berries on top provided some spark. The very hot tempura of pickled plum added a sweet and sour note.
The sake was Sasaichi (Junmai) Yamanashi: “Very smooth and well balanced, using excellent underground water from Mount Fuji.”
Steamed Japanese Yam Custard Soup
Lily Bulb, Taro Potato, Morel Mushroom, Green Pea, Yomogi-Fu
蓬麩 百合根 モリーユ茸 長芋 三度豆 鼈甲あん
The bowl arrived covered with a thin piece of cedar decorated with characters representing fires in the hills above Kyoto as part of an annual Buddhist festival. The soup had a gelatinous quality, much appreciated in Japan. The various vegetable pieces added interesting freshness. There was no sake paired with the soup.
Grilled Oden Stew
Daikon Radish, Carrot, Potato, Konnyaku Yam Noodles, Corn-Fu
Steamed Vegetables with Onion Ponzu Sauce
Shiitake Mushroom, Lotus Root, Artichokes, Yellow Onion
This pretty and elaborate plate was described as our main course when it was served, although it was nowhere near the end. I thought that the stew was an odd choice for August; it was heavy and more appropriate for winter despite the summery green noodle topping. The vegetables cooked en papillote in paper were also winter types, but the effect was lighter, with the aroma of the onion pervading the others. The watermelon jelly, with what seemed to be small apple chunks inside, was more seasonal and enjoyable.
The sake was Denshin Yuki (Junmai Ginjo) Fukui. “Dry, pure and gentle with a fragrant and refreshing taste.”
We then shared a special dish of the evening not on the menu:
Fried round Japanese eggplant topped with okra, zucchini, daikon and a generous portion of black summer truffle slices.
This had nice flavors, but the vegetables were overcooked and mushy. A slice or two of truffle added to each mouthful made the dish more interesting.
Chilled Summer Cucumber
Chinese Cabbage, Housemade Fried Tofu, Ginger, Onion Chive
太胡瓜 白菜 厚揚げ 針生姜 浅葱
The cucumber rounds, cabbage and tofu cube had been cooked and then chilled. They were served on a cold, clear broth and topped with finely jullienned ginger.
The sake was Born (Junmai Daiginjo) Fukui. “Powerful, complex aroma and elegant flavor with dry finish.”
Cabbage, Daikon Radish, Tomato-Fu
Somen Noodles with Housemade Tomato Sauce
The three vegetable rounds topped sushi rice as if they were fish.
Somen noodles are thinner than udon and are traditionally served cold. The fresh tomato sauce was seasonal and good. It was also complementary to the two cold eggplant rounds on top.
Oze no Yukidoke (Junmai) Gunma: “Super dry with full body; perfect pair with food.”
Kabocha Squash Pudding
Lotus Root Donut, Lotus Seeds
カボチャしるこ 蓮根団子 蓮の実
The “pudding” was made with Kabocha squash, which is a winter vegetable. The lotus seed and donut hole added interest. We were asked to alternate spoonfuls of the dessert with bites of the yuzu skin cooked in miso, which was a nice sweet and sour alternation.
Matcha with Candies by Kyoto Shioyoshiken
The candies were quite sweet; the green tea was very frothy and good.
We enjoyed the meal, but were disappointed that it was not at the level of the meals we have had before under the previous chef. The number of out of season vegetables was surprising. The new chef should have adapted to what he can find in New York by now. He is close to the Union Square Green Market which is a source for many New York chefs. One can find fresh Japanese produce, such as shishito and fushimi peppers, there. An August menu without sweet corn is a mistake which the previous chef did not make.
Our waitress told us that Kajitsu will be moving this winter to a new location in East Midtown. It will be a two story restaurant with lunch served on the ground floor. We are looking forward to the change and will try it again in hopes that the new chef has settled in and reached the level of the former chef.
To see all of our Kajitsu posts click here.