Living in Los Angeles, I don’t usually think of a winter wonderland as one where everything is in differing shades of white, but that color was definitely the theme to our dinner at Kajitsu last week. It’s rare that a vegan restaurant earns Michelin stars and its even rarer that we get a reservation at that type of restaurant, so when we were in New York and the restaurant had an opening, we seized the opportunity.
Kajitsu is a tiny restaurant at the bottom of a couple of stairs that’s easy to overlook. Its interior contains a handful of small tables and an L-shaped bar that seats eight. On the wall behind the bar is a small vase with a single flower. It’s Japanese minimalism at its best.
We ordered the Hana set menu ($70) which upon closer inspection featured dishes consisting of a lot of white-colored things: yuba, white miso, cauliflower, mountain yam, radish, and more. Since Kajitsu is shojin restaurant, we didn’t have to ask any questions about animal products in things.
First impressions are important and in this area Kajitsu did not disappoint. Our first dish was steamed purple top turnip and awa-fu tempura with a warm ankake sauce. The sauce was creamy and savory, while the awa-fu was satisfyingly chewy.
The dish that came next showcased the meticulous knife skills of the chef. Under a piece of leek cut into a cone was a tiny radish cut into a delicate flower. The truffle pieces went really well with the delightful lemon snow. Even though I love truffles, what I was really looking forward to in this dish was the yuba. As soon as I saw it on the menu, I started thinking back to the tender, soft sheets of yuba we had while staying at a ryokan in Japan. Unfortunately, Kajitsu’s version couldn’t stand up to that and what we got instead was something one step above what we could get at the store.
Our salad dish was the most thoughtful and exact salad I had ever had. It was surprising how many flavors and textures could fit into that small bowl. There were micro greens, sprouts, a soy sauce gelee type thing, apple vinaigrette, and a spicy finish.
The noodle dish consisted of flat, house-made udon in a white sesame and cabbage stew. The udon had such a smooth mouthfeel that I could have sworn they were rice noodles. Regrettably, they were a little too overdone for my tastes and some of my pieces stuck together. The broth was a hit though and Will probably would have slurped up the bowl the broth came in if the waitress hadn’t taken away.
While we were eating the noodle dish, we had been watching a chef prepare the pickles for the rice dish. The pickles were made earlier in-house, but it still took her at least ten minutes to carefully portion out each type of pickle into a small dish. Watching her work on the pickle presentation convinced me that one needed to be extremely detail-oriented to work at Kajitsu.
When the rice dish with pickles arrived, they did not disappoint. The rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The house-made pickles were appetizing. The phyllo dough nori was different but good. This was probably one of the best bowls of rice I’d ever had at a restaurant.
I was afraid that I was too full for dessert when the single mochi on a plate came around, but it was so delightful I managed to eat all of it. It helped that the azuki and kabocha filling was just the right sweetness for me.
To finish the meal, we were served small candies from Kyoto with a warm bowl of matcha. The green bitterness of the tea went well with the sweet candies and left a satisfying end to the entire meal.
414 E 9th St New York, NY 10009
Between 1st Ave. & Ave. A