Last fall, you might remember that we were very proud of ourselves for discovering Kajitsu, an incredible little East Village restaurant that we later found out had a Michelin star. Apparently we’re really good at discovering restaurants that already have Michelin stars. Have you guys heard about this place, Le Bernardin? It’s supposed to be awesome.
Just as we had finished dropping a very high rating on Kajitsu and remarking on what a special restaurant it is, they decided to close up shop and move to a larger space in Murray Hill. We can only assume it was all of that demand that we (and not the Michelin star) created. Either way, it rendered our old review pretty much useless, so a trip to the new Kajitsu was in order. Twist our arms.
We’re happy to report back that the food at Kajitsu is still exciting, interesting, and mind-bogglingly good. The menu is exactly the same: a four-course and an eight-course tasting menu, exemplifying the all-vegetarian practice of Shojin cuisine that originated in Buddhist monasteries. But now this restaurant is exactly where it should have been all along - in a space that properly reflects the fact that high level sh*t is happening all around you. The dining room is situated on the second floor of a townhouse, appointed with beautiful wood paneling, slate floors, and wood tables that look like they’ve been taken from the trunk of some mythical Japanese tree that understands human feelings. It’s a very “zen” room, but it is also unmistakably one where world-class food is being served. And we’re pretty sure that was exactly the point of the move. Kajitsu is such a special place that it deserves to be part of the conversation when it comes to essential New York restaurants. But it wasn’t ever going to get the recognition it truly deserves in its old location, a few steps below street level on a dirty block that ends at Tompkin’s Square Park. This new restaurant is a far more appropriate setting, geographically situated so that more of New York City is likely to experience it, and aesthetically designed so that they can acquire a few more of those Michelin stars. Which, mark our words, they will.
This was a very, very strange dish. Basically, intricate pieces of green bell pepper, mountain yam, okra, and some other stuff have been set into a dome of clear jelly and then mixed in with little ribbons of vinegar jelly. It ranges from somewhat unsettling to pretty damn excellent, and how adventurous you are probably determines where you’ll land in the spectrum.
Now we’re talking. This delicious soup includes all manner of things that we could absolutely not identify in a lineup, like gosho-fu, pumpkin-fu, and mitsuba. What we can tell you is that the soup is very delicious, and the tofu balls are sort of like incredibly tasty vegan tater tots. So good and so satisfying.
Mind blowing. This plate is anchored with a hollowed out onion with onion goodness stuffed inside, and is then surrounded by fried vegetables, some mushrooms, and a dijon mustard sauce to dip things in. Everything on this plate was so incredibly good, and that dijon mustard sauce on the side at first seemed out of place but then seemed like a stroke of genius. If we could come back and order only this plate, we’d be here every day for lunch.
These house-made soba noodles are thinner than the ones you might be used to, but they’re still full of flavor. As for the “sasamaki sushi” on the plate, they are basically little balls of rice that have been doused in the juice of a pickled plum and wrapped in shiso. Very interesting and very delicious.
A very simple and beautiful plate of vegetables that sit on top of a mound of “sesame cream sauce,” which is almost more of a thick sesame butter.
I don’t care if it’s Kajitsu or Benihana, I f*cking love anything that include the words “sizzling” and “rice” in the same sentence. Like those Japanese dishes with a scalding hot rock in the middle for you to cook things on? Sign me up. And probably get me a first aid kit, because I’ll definitely be burning myself. Fortunately, I did not burn myself eating this hot pile of goodness. And it was glorious.
Japanese desserts are different than ours. And by different, I mean better.