A few months ago, I mentioned the opening of Kajitsu, a Kyoto-style vegetarian restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan (map). On Sunday night my wife and I pulled up seats along the lovely wood counter there for dinner. What a magnificent meal.
I thought a lot about cooking vegetables during my recent stay in Japan training in kitchens there. I love how fine Japanese cuisine strives to retain an ingredient's natural flavor, highlighting each vegetable in its peak season of flavor, never doing too much to stray from a root or green's intrinsic taste and texture, and infusing these ingredients with mouthwatering umami through subtle flavoring with dashi, shoyu or miso.
At Katjitsu, a restaurant based on vegetarian Buddhist shojin cooking, Chef Nishihara deftly demonstrated these ideas, and more. I found especially delightful his use of local ingredients -- broccoli, corn, peppers, yellow and purple cauliflower -- preparing them in an completely Japanese way, like his delicate puree of broccoli in dashi, served with chunks of roasted, charred eggplant. Fantastic. Nishihara-san, who trained in one of Kyoto's most renown kaiseki restaurants, also demonstrated his cooking mojo with the signature shojin ingredients of that city, like yuba and nama-fu, which you can see in the picture above. And I absolutely loved his handmade soba served with an incredible shiitake-infused dipping sauce. If you want to know what soba should really taste like, try his.
Everything about Kajitsu, which was launched by a Kyoto fu-making family, gave me the feeling of dining in Japan, from the breathtaking wood and tableware, to the deft service and the chefs working on the other side of the dining counter. The menu is a set tasting course, which changes every month. I can't wait to come back in July. I hope you check out Kajitsu. (And when you do, please let me know your reaction in the comments!)
Kajitsu, 414 East 9th St. between 1st Ave. and Ave. A, 212-228-4873