Day of Celebration

Nothing motivates quite like a hard deadline, and this one certainly lit a fire underneath me. Kajitsu, temple of shojin cuisine in NYC, had been on my radar for years, but always seemed just outside of reach, despite its easy accessibility. Offering a set menu that changes each month, your only choices are between four courses or eight, with prices that match the painstakingly crafted edibles on offer. There just never seemed a proper occasion or reason to visit, never enough justification to drop that kind of cash on the experience of a single meal. As it turns out, the reason is presented right in the name: Kajitsu, translated as “fine day,” or “day of celebration,” says it all. In other words, treat y’o self, because today is just as worthy of celebration as any other.

When it came to light that the restaurant was closing up shop and moving to a new location, that was the catalyst for finally dropping by. Sure, it was due to reopen only a few weeks later in the heart of Manhattan, but I wanted the full, original experience. Moreover, I wanted an excuse, and this was as good as any.

Seated at the chef’s counter, we were privy to some of the fine details to go into composing these plates, but without seeing any of the real hustle and bustle in the kitchen. To call the atmosphere “meditative” is an understatement; there is no music, no loud chatter. Overhead lights focus directly on the food, which is the only place your attention is desired to fall. Distractions are at a minimum, right down to the tableware. Everything has a place and a purpose, including the attentive waitstaff, never missing a beat.

After the shorter kaze menu was chosen and our fate effectively sealed, the performance began.

Real, sharp, pungent wasabi grated mere seconds before hitting the plate took me by surprise. It was nothing like the colored horseradish found in most other eateries, but that was only an accent flavor to the Sashimi Style King Oyster Mushroom. Served chilled, the slippery slices of mushroom were paired with a savory sauce, a perfect compliment to the natural umami found within. Another delicious surprise came by way of the pickled celery, delightfully tender and yet crunchy all at once. That’s the sort of condiment I would buy by the jarful if only they would package it.

Daikon Soup may not sound like much on paper, but the surprisingly thick broth, enriched with a light asparagus puree, perfectly hit the spot. Concealed by a thin sheet of simmered daikon, a single piece of wheat gluten shaped like an ume blossom stood out in brilliant pink, a playful addition that lightened the serious mood. It would be a stretch to describe a bowl of soup “fun,” but that little touch brought a smile to my face.

The main course ,which was named the Plum Tree Plate, was a collage of complimentary components, displayed together on one plate. Standouts include the lily bulb puree, which is something never before seen in my world, and tasted for all the world like classic, comforting mashed potatoes. Fava beans and string beans came coated in a crispy, completely grease-free shell of tempura, adding just the right degree of indulgence into the meal.

Finally, ending on a soothing note, Baby Mountain Yam Soupy Rice gave diners an opportunity to play with their food just a little bit. Soup came in a separate pitcher, to be poured over a perfectly molded square of yam-filled sushi rice. Sheets of nori practically melted upon contacting the hot broth, seamlessly adding just a hint of oceanic salinity into the mix. Though my sweet tooth still yearned for a sphere of mochi or a small matcha cookie, I found myself perfectly full and content after that last spoonful of soup.

It was a meal worth the wait, although I certainly won’t let so much time pass before my next visit. Happily, they’re due to reopen in Murray Hill by mid-March, so there’s no excuse not to celebrate the day, for any reason at all.

24 thoughts on “Day of Celebration

  1. You really have a way with words and photography, Hannah. You really make us feel like we’re right there with you. Awesome job!

  2. I have had the pleasure of dining at Kajitsu . I savor every one of your shots and your lovely descriptions. You did this remarkable place justice. Can’t wait to check out their new digs!

  3. Precision perfect pukka tucker and beautifully photographed (would I expect anything less?). What a sensory treat that would have been! As a somewhat (how shall I say this…) more “statuesque” (is that a good foil for tubby or is it just reserved for tall? ;) ) appetite than perhaps you may have (being the tiny gorgeous pixie that you are…) I might just have to find myself wading into the fridge when I got home a bit like Nigella Lawson on a bender…”How was your meal Fran?”… ” Oh gorgeous and memorable and perfect :)” (all spoken with one hand on a large tub of Hannah’s A La Mode heaven and a spoon clutched between my teeth ;) )

  4. What a great way to indulge. The food looks amazing and even with simple ingredients, they were prepared extraordinarily. Your pictures really capture the essence and the beauty of the food.

  5. What an amazing restaurant–and $55 for four courses is a really great price for NYC, you should definitely celebrate more! :)

  6. I feel much calmer after reading this and seeing the tranquil, Zen photos. But I must admit I am a bit hungry. Where is this place? I need to go. Because as you said, you don’t need a real reason–today is a fine day.

  7. We were at Kajitsu last year and the experience was just out of this world. The service was impeccable and the food was prepared with painstaking attention to detail. It was so unforgettable that we couldn’t stop talking about it for months. I am glad that I had a chance to visit before they move. Definitely want to go back to NY again for the amazing shojin cuisine!

  8. I’ve been on an Asian food kick lately and all this looks so delicious and very interesting. I am really intrigued by the Plum Tree Plate…did you eat each piece separately or take bites together?

    1. I ate most things separately, but I can’t claim to know if that was the intended method of consumption. I just tend to eat courses or components by themselves to really taste each part. Some pieces clearly went together though, like the crispy tempura and creamy lily bulb mash. The contrast in textures was perfect!

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