Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Return to Kajitsu (food)

After having a delightful Xmas dinner there a while back, I was eager to revisit Kajitsu, and went with friends SM and TF. We sat at the chef's counter last time, and discovered that the counter didn't really have much to offer. You get to see the chef plating and making matcha, but no cooking gets done in front of you and he's not free to be chatty like most sushi chefs. So this time we booked a table in the back area for 9pm.

I usually don't start dinner that late, but they only do two seatings for the tables, one at 6pm and one at 9pm. The only problem was, when we got to the restaurant, the customers from the 6pm seating still weren't done. And they still weren't done after we waited twenty minutes and the hostess asked if we wanted to wait at the counter and order some drinks. Finally, after a good 40+minutes after our reservation, we were seated. I know there are plenty of hotspots in NYC where people wait well over an hour, but that's why I don't go to those places. The worst offender is Ippudo, where the food is not anywhere near being worth the wait.

I guess I just expected more from the front of house of a (vegetarian) kaiseki restaurant with two Michelin stars. Also, from a practical standpoint, I don't understand why they couldn't have whisked the diners to the counter to finish their meal and sat us. I'm probably biased because I was the one kept waiting, but they already got their money out of those diners. If we ended up leaving because we didn't want to wait any longer, that's a whole table of lost revenue.

Enough ranting. I could go on and on, but the food was really good so let's focus on that. They serve two menus every month. A $50 4 course menu and a $70 menu that adds a course of assorted tastings and dessert to the 4 course menu. The menu changes every month, and in the two years Kajitsu has been in business, the chef has not repeated a single dish, which is a truly impressive feat. The presentations are beautiful, but sometimes there are garnishes that are just for decorative purposes only. If you're not sure about something, make sure to ask if it's edible!

BRAISED BAMBOO SHOOTS WITH GRATED CELERY ROOT and arugula, mitsuba, phyllo dough, butterbur puree, edamame shoots, baby celery root, wasabi. This was a truly spectacular first course. The top layer of celery root and puree had a subtle earthy flavor and covered a thin layer of phyllo dough underneath which were the bamboo shoots and edamame. A wonderful construction of textures from soft to crunchy. The wasabi added a nice gentle kick that managed to help bring out the subtle flavors.

CLEAR SOUP WITH YOMOGI-FU AND SOFT BRAISED KABU TURNIP with lotus root and yuzu zest. This was my least favorite dish of the night, even though it was beautifully presented with the lotus snowflakes and the tiny yuzu zest squares. I would think that many people who don't regularly eat as light as I do would consider the soup downright bland, and I continue to not be a fan of the texture of the yomogi flavored nama-fu.

There's a lot going on here with this trio of tastings. In the dish was GRILLED SOY BEANS AND STEAMED SPINACH WITH SAKE-KASU TOFU SAUCE with carrot, burdock root, baby breakfast radish, and sesame paste. Another wonderful combination of textures, and I actually liked the flavors of all the individual components. The sauce was ok, and I'm not really sure how necessary it was to the dish. In the corn husk was STUFFED POLENTA WITH MOCHI AND CORN MISO with yellow bell pepper. An interesting play of textures, with the featured flavor being the sweetness of the corn. The sweetness is evident yet manages not to overpower. This came with some truffle salt to dip in and the combination of the sweetness with the salt and truffle flavor was fantastic. On the upper right was DRIED PERSIMMON WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR AND GRILLED WALNUT. Just ingenious. Another great play on sweet with savory, but this time with a third component of just a hint of lime. The leaves on the bottom left were not to be eaten. Again, remember to ask!

HOUSE-MADE HOUTOU NOODLES AND STEWED WINTER VEGETABLES IN MISO BROTH with nappa cabbage, taro, shimeji, enoki, kabocha, carrot, snow pea, shiratama-fu, and shichimi. The main course consisted of this wonderful and earthy stew of vegetables in a flavorful miso broth. The wide flat udon noodles worked well with the broth that had some grittiness from the cooking down of the taro and other root vegetables. There were also large pieces of leek tempura which was a definite winner.

Our individual servings. We each had seconds, but my friends soon regretted that decision as this course was very filling.

CHILLED NAGA-IMO WITH MOZUKU SEAWEED and ginger and yuzu vinegar. This was a welcome palate cleanser, considering there was still another savory course while we had just finished the heaviest course of the night. It was refreshing and tart with a nice crunchy texture. It reminded me of the first course I had at Masa, without the addition of crab. In fact, I could see either crab or uni working very well with this to create a wonderful first course.

STEAMED RICE WITH FRIED TOFU AND TEA INFUSED SOY SAUCE with grated daikon and scallion AND HOUSE-MADE PICKLES. This was tasty and satisfying, but I wasn't convinced that it was anything special. The pickles were good, but the tofu did not have a standout house-made flavor, and I couldn't really discern the tea flavor in the soy sauce.

STEAMED MANJU with white bean paste, japanese sweet potato. Another lovely presentation, with the dotting of the eyes to resemble a rabbit, since it is the year of the rabbit after all. Another well crafted dessert that wasn't too sweet or too sticky in texture.

MATCHA TEA WITH CANDIES BY SHIOYOSHIKEN. The sugar/meringue-like candies were ordinary. The matcha was a good way to end the meal.

Except that the meal wasn't over. Mixed berry ice cream with a rice wafer was sent over by the chef because we'd waited so long. The fruit was fresh while the ice cream was nice in that it was less creamy than regular ice cream while being creamier than a sorbet.

Some more candies shaped like rabbits to take home.

The gesture by the chef was nice, although it would have been better if he'd sent out something earlier in the meal, before we had stuffed and contented ourselves that the meal was over. The food was again very good, beautifully presented, and a good value. However, this is not a restaurant suitable for all palates. If you add salt to your french fries, you will definitely find this food bland. Or if you're really used to chemically created flavors, you might find it bland as most of the flavors are quite subtle.

No comments :