Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Kajitsu - Review

Kajitsu - Highly Recommended
414 E 9th St, New York NY 10009
Btwn 1st Ave & Ave A
Phone: (212) 228-4873

We had our friends Wei-Yi and Eric in town, so I figured it was a perfect time to check out Kajitsu - a place Porthos has been raving about. Usually, vegetarian food does not sound exciting to me at all (unless it's Indian), but this was completely mind blowing stuff. I always laughed at all the fancy restaurants serving $60-70 on all vegetarian tasting menus, but now I kinda get it. Overall, I give the restaurant an 93/100.

Our Menu
(Kaze 4 course menu)

Tiny Vegetables and White Mushroom with Lotus Root Gelée and Sesame Cream ***
Tiny turnip, Tiny Parsnip, Fiddlehead Fern, Snow Pea, Lotus Seed, Lotus Rootlet, Ramp, Shiso shoot
1000% WTF moment. I had no idea what to expect of this place and the first dish brought me to Yasuda levels. As simple as this sounds, it was basically a whole bunch of tiny beautifully presented baby vegetables but with such an insanely powerful impact. Each vegetable was perfectly prepared and had the most pronounced flavor and texture - it totally reminded me of Yasuda where each fish was completely different from the rest. Obviously there was some aiding with some type of veggie dashi?, but the combo of the veg and the sesame cream made for such an earthy combination. Completely ridiculous for me.

Cauliflower Soup with Tempra Artichoke Hearts **
Sansho Leaves, Pink Peppercorn
The first thing you notice here is the intense aroma of cauliflower as you remove the cover from the bowl. At first, the aroma was much greater than the flavor of the soup which was a tad disappointing. But, then I realized I should stop taking baby sips and take a big boy pull which really opened up the flavors of the soup. It went from slightly muted to eleven on the flavor scale. Very rich and oddly citrusy with the sansho leaves. Eating the artichoke hearts really brought out the earthiness of the soup and even the batter added to the thickness and flavor of the soup as well.

Nama-Fu Croquette and Panko Fried Vegetables with House-Made Worcestershire Sauce ***
Egg Plant, Okra, Asparagus, Leek, Sweet Potato, Onion, Patty Pan Squash, Trumpet Royal, Tofu
Grilled Fresh Chick Pea
Cabbage and Shiso Salad
One thing that people usually mess up is tempura - I have no idea why but it happens a lot. Either it's too oily, too heavy, not crispy enough, or the flavor of the ingredient is lost somehow. Not hear my fellow dudes and dudettes...this was perfectly cooked, crispy, light, and with the most intense vegetable flavors. Winners for me were the onion (best fried onion ring of all time), squash, and sweet potato. On top of that, there was the cabbage and shiso salad which was just flavored by lemon juice - couldn't believe how good that was. Also, my first time for fresh chick peas and they were friggin delish.

Steamed Rice with Grilled Bamboo Shoots **
Mitsuba, Fava Beans
House-made Pickles

Perfect texture with the rice and the accompaniments were ridiculous. The grilled fava beans were maybe the highlight of the night. Rich, earthy, and an awesome smoky flavor from being grilled all with such an awesome texture. Add that to the nice and slightly sweet bamboo shoots and you had a knockout. The side pickles were killer too which woke up the entire dish.

House-made Soba Noodles *
After all those great dishes we didn't want to stop, so we figured we had to order the soba noodles. These had such a great texture, but my first couple of tries were disappointing due to the broth. What I learned though was you needed to soak the noodles in the broth - like for a good 20 second before pulling the trigger. After learning that fact, the dish was uber flavorful again. Still curious how do they make the tsuyu without bonito though...

Rating System
--- What the F - in a bad way * Good ** Great *** What the F – in a good way

Overall Restaurant Experience (93/100)
  • Food (9.3/10) – One of the best restaurant experiences ever for me and these were all friggin vegetables. Still can't get over it and completely shocked how I didn't need or even want meat the entire time.
  • Service (8.0/10) – Waitress was attentive and the food came out quick, but slightly too quick in my opinion. No time to digest - as soon as we were done with one of the dishes, the next one came out in under 5 mins.
  • Atmosphere (8.5/10) – Typical Japanese place with a sushi style counter in front where it looks like the chef will plate in front of you. There's also seats in the back which is where we sat. Place was on the tinier side which seats maybe about 30-40. As with most Japanese joints, the place had lots of wood on the wall. We got there at 6:45pm and reservations were required. In the beginning it was a bit dead, but towards 8pm it was maybe 70% full. Crowd consisted of couples only and they were all Japanese.
  • Price (8.0) – My first thought was why am I paying $50 for 4 small sized vegetable dishes and then you eat the first course and you're like that is why. The technique and care going to each of those vegetables on the plate makes it worth the price of admission.
Closing Comments
It was so good that we were immediately talking about ordering the 8 course meal for next time. We would have ordered 8 courses, but we went a wee bit too nuts at the flushing mall ordering two huge plates of food per person. Next time, only light lunches beforehand.

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