I am finally back. Although the past couple of weeks have been super hectic, I had the opportunity to go to my favorite restaurant Kajitsu, twice in two weeks. At the end of March, my work held a special dinner gathering there, and I wasn't planning on going, but at the last moment I got dragged to be the interpreter for the chef. I am not a interpreter, but it's chef Nishihara, the genius behind this super delicious vegan restaurant, and so I had to help him out.
Here are all the delicious dishes that the guests enjoyed, while I was standing next to the chef, frantically looking for vegetable words in English, trying to concentrate, without eating. Since the chef is more of a craftsman than a public speaker, I added a lot of my own interpretation for each dish.
March 30, 2011
The March menu theme was "green", since it's the spring, the new beginning.
Top left is homemade steamed tofu with English peas with kuzu-aonori sauce. Top right is salad of scallion chrysanthemum leaves (edible) and white wood ear mushroom with mustard miso. Bottom left is grilled turnip with yomogi (mugwort) sauce. Bottom center is a rice ball with salted cherry blossom wrapped in lettuce. Bottom right is okara (soy pulp) and avocado salad.
AMAZING napa cabbage potage:
This soup was filled with surprises. The soup was made with napa cabbage, and porridge, hence the color is similar to actual potage with cream--but this was a totally successful vegan version. I didn't taste the rice at all, it was so smooth and creamy, with a slight hint of sake.
Underneath the soup, there were boiled wonton skins, and underneath that, there were tiny turnips, fu, and fried shallots. Every bite had a different flavor to it. Luckily after everyone left, I was offered makanai or staff dinner, which included this dish so I had the opportunity to taste it. I was so impressed by the chef's attention to details, with playfulness.
Homemade soba noodles:
Knowing how difficult it is to make dipping sauce without using any fish base (or for any other dish in Japan), his soba dipping sauce is a good example of depth in flavor without using fish. I was fortunate to taste this later as well. Since my meal was basically off the menu items, he added vegetable tempura on top of my soba. I was super happy!
Spring is all about takenoko, or bamboo shoots--no, not the kind you find in a can, nor vacuum packed.
He got this specific bamboo harvested in Tokushima (Shikoku region), quickly boiled, and shipped to NYC. Grilled bamboo shoots with arugula tempura, bottom is different kinds of fu or wheat gluten, and white asparagus with fermented tofu sauce. I didn't get to taste this, but by the look on everyone's faces, they were more than pleased.
Rice with diced abalone mushrooms, with homemade pickled vegetables. It was so great to see the chef breaking the traditional boundaries of shojin-ryori, and using local vegetables such as brussel sprouts.
Top left is a spring cabbage sauce for rice with capers and Italian parsley. Capers in a Japanese dish? They added a really interesting flavor to the rice.
Last, but not at least, green mochi for dessert. Another surprise: inside, it contained had a basil-infused sugar syrup.
Basil in Japanese sweets? Hells to the yes! It was so different from what we would ever expect in a mochi-type dessert--but so refreshing. And the combination of sweet bean paste and basil sounds odd, but it was actually fantastic. The dish on the right is a wet nap. Attention to details.
Matcha was served at the end.
April 15, 2011
Kajitsu changes their menu monthly, and it was a good thing to go at the end of March and then mid-April to compare differences, while having the same theme of spring for both months.
Their sake cups are just gorgeous. I wonder breakage/theft rate is.
First course was okara (soy pulp) and avocado wrapped in tofu skin and broccoli rabe ohitashi on bottom.
The pink in the center is swiss chard stems. And white flowers are arugula flowers, which taste just like regular arugula. It was so precious and so delicious, I didn't want it to end. Again, the usage of broccoli rabe in a traditional Japanese dish was smart and unique.
The dish is super cute as well.
Soup dish was spring onion dumplings in vegetable consomme.
I always thought you need meat to make consomme, but I was wrong. It wasn't boring at all. It tasted like spring, from the various flavors of vegetables, and spring onion was so gentle. Seaweed on the right side added an extra flavor to the soup.
See all the mini vegetables? There's a farmer in California who specifically grows baby vegetables.
I am drooling by the thought of this next dish.
Top was bamboo shoots mixed with kinome (sansho leaf) sauce. Green, a bit spicy, and sweetness of bamboo was so delicious. These bamboos were shipped from Kyoto. On the left is sesame tofu with a yomogi leaf swirl. Soft, chewy, and delicate. On right was cherry potato.
The menu said cherry potato, and when I was imagining what it may be, I thought, it maybe fried cherry blossoms or something, But this was basically just mashed potato, and the pink color here comes from red potato (inside is red). I am not a big fan of potatos per se, but I was BLOWN AWAY by this. So smooth, and it had something very subtle yet intense. Yes, he incorporated truffles in this potato. I asked, "Did you put truffles in this potato?" and he grinned. Damn him, he is seriously a genius, turning somewhat boring mashed potato into a brilliant dish. I wanted to eat a bucket full of this. Truffle mashed potato sounds very trendy these days, but this was somehow very Japanese. Maybe the perfect sakura shape, or the tiny Japanese mustard on top? It was brilliant.
Four different kinds of fried fu (wheat gluten).
There's not much taste in fu, it's just chewy in texture, so the miso on top added another dimension. The green is matcha ginger salt, yellow was yuzu-miso, and the bottom left was balsamic vinegar, smoked soy sauce with dried persimmon-miso.
Wow, just wow.
Next was the chef's interpretation of kata-yakisoba (Chinese fried noodles covered with thick sauce.
Deconstructed: he deep fried his signature soba noodles.
Sorry for the bad picture of the sauce, but I was so impressed by his creativity for the main course. It was served behind our seat and there weren't enough lights.
Chef Nishihara is totally adapting his dishes so that both Japanese and American customers can enjoy this without feeling like, "vegetables are boring". The sauce tasted fresh, with a white miso and sesame base, and of course, a lot of vegetables. Just like regular kata-yakisoba, it had a very deep ginger flavor as well. Fried soba was perfectly crunchy and was of course made by him in the morning. I can't believe he deep fried his precious soba noodles, but this worked perfectly.
Final course was bamboo shoot rice. So spring.
The leaf you see here is kinome (sansho leaf).
It came with homemade pickled vegetables and miso soup with koya-tofu instead of regular tofu. Koya-tofu is basically a frozen and dried tofu, and it absorbs a lot more liquids, hence it was so good.
Tara no me (aralia sprouts) tempura, a little bitter, but a true sign of spring.
Dessert was a sakura-mochi.
After almost three hours of tasting all this awesomeness, I was complete. My soul was healed, my body was in food coma mode. Seriously I do NOT praise restaurant food this much, but this place is two thumbs up, and hats down to the chef. If you do go, make sure you call (OpenTable only takes reservations for tables, not counters) and reserve counter seats. It's so worth it.