Kajitsu Celebrates the Colors and Flavors of Autumn Heading Into Winter

Sunday, December 14, 2014
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Scenes from our November 18th lunch at Kajitsu

Kajitsu means ‘fine day,’ or ‘day of celebration’ in Japanese.  We have chosen the name Kajitsu hoping that a visit here will always be a special occasion for our guests.”
–from Kajitsu’s website

Having just returned from spending the better part of three weeks on the road (on book tour with THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE) in cities alternately windier, sunnier, and rainier than New York, we were still settling back into our bed and life in Manhattan in mid-November — let alone the dry, cold weather as autumn heads toward winter.  A chance lunch at Kajitsu, which last month was celebrating the colors and flavors of November in true Japanese fashion, was an unexpected healing, providing us with both grounding and exhilaration.

Because the casual downstairs sister restaurant Kokage (which serves seafood in addition to vegan options, and where we love to enjoy a $20 bowl of the city’s best ramen) was completely packed with a wait at 12:30 pm on a mid-November weekday, we inquired about availability upstairs, and decided to have a celebratory lunch at the pricier-yet-still-a-bargain-for-the-quality Kajitsu, which had tables open at lunch and runs $45 for three courses and $50 for four courses.

Kajitsu Lunch Menu
November 18, 2014

Mukouzuke, White Rice, and Miso Soup
Mixed nuts tofu and seasonal vegetables

Autumn Hot Pot and Vegetable Tempura
Carrot, daikon, komatsuna green, mushrooms, ginger, scallion

Wakame Chazuke
or
Udon Noodles ($6 supplement)

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Mixed nuts tofu and seasonal vegetables with white rice and miso soup

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Quite possibly the best udon noodles we’d ever tasted

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Atsushi Nakakigashi (at left) with Kajitsu Executive Chef Hiroki Odo (at right)

This was one of the best lunches we’ve ever had at the restaurant — which is saying something, considering how many wonderful lunches and dinners we’d enjoyed there when Chef Ryota Ueshima (whom we had the pleasure of interviewing for THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE, but who’s since returned to Japan) was at the kitchen’s helm.  Now in charge is Kajitsu’s Executive Chef Hiroki Odo, and he wowed us with that lunch.

When we had vegan guests visiting from out of town — Makini Howell, chef-owner of Seattle’s most acclaimed vegan restaurant Plum Bistro, and her mother Niombi Howell, proprietor of Tacoma’s pioneering vegan restaurant Quickie Too — we settled on Kajitsu for our dinner together.  Pushing the envelope even further during this multi-course feast, the kitchen did not disappoint in creating a memorable experience for us all.

Kajitsu HANA Dinner Menu
December 7, 2014

Winter Vegetable Pate
“Holiday Season in New York”
Celery roots, cauliflower, red beets, radish

Sake Kasu Soup with Porcini
Japanese taro, Konnyaku, nameko, sake lees, scallion

Grilled Sesame-Tofu with Seasonal Assortment
Lotus roots, broccoli, mustard, deep-fried tofu, scallion, jicama, shiitake, turnip,carrot, soybean, fennel, spaghetti squash, mountain yam, umeboshi

Stuffed Yuba Roll and Crunchy Brussel Sprout
Mushrooms, bean sprouts, scallion, ginger, sansho sauce

Yuzu-Miso Daikon
Watercress, burdock roots

Sweet Potato Rice

Strawberry Mochi
Azuki bean

Matcha with Candy
by Kyoto Kagizen-Yoshifusa

Shojin cuisine refers to a type of vegetarian cooking that originates in Zen Buddhism.Even though it does not use meat or fish, shojin is regarded as the foundation of all Japanese cuisine,especially kaiseki, the Japanese version of haute cuisine. In its present form, kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which fresh, seasonal ingredients are prepared in ways that enhance the flavor of each component, with the finished dishes beautifully arranged on plates.  All of these characteristics come from shojin cuisine, which is still prepared in Buddhist temples throughout Japan.”
–from Kajitsu’s website

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Seasonal dish served wrapped to symbolize a “present,” in celebration of the season

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Our server displays a large basket of seasonal produce, accented by fresh cotton (representing snow)

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Scenes from our December 7th dinner at Kajitsu

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Kajitsu’s scene-stealing Yuzu-Miso Daikon served with watercress and burdock roots may have looked like a caramel-sauced cannelle, but was deeply satisfyingly savory

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Left: Strawberry Mochi with azuki bean; Right: Matcha with Candy

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Top: Signage upon entering Kajitsu; Bottom: Ippodo Tea Company’s Kato Riichiro

Kajitsu, the second vegan restaurant to have earned two stars from The New York Times (after Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson‘s Candle 79), has been both a welcome newcomer since its opening, and an especially welcome addition to our neighborhood since March 2013 when the restaurant moved to Murray Hill.

We look forward to our return visits to Kajitsu every month to celebrate the changing of the seasons, let alone the holiday season.  Every visit indeed becomes a “day of celebration.”

Ippodo Tea is downstairs at 125 East 39th Street (bet. Park & Lexington Avenues), Manhattan.  Phone:  212.228.4873.  Website:  kajitsunyc.com

Kajitsu is upstairs at 125 East 39th Street (bet. Park & Lexington Avenues), Manhattan.  Phone:  212.228.4873.  Website:  kajitsunyc.com

Kokage is downstairs in the same location.  Phone:  212.228.4873.  Website:  kajitsunyc.com

Categorized: New York City