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very excited to go (nytimes below)
414 East Ninth Street (First Avenue), East Village, (212) 228-4873.
New Yorkers have recently embraced the animal pleasures of Japanese food, like pork-belly ramen and chicken-tendon yakitori. But now comes Kajitsu, an elegantly sobering reminder of Japan’s ascetic traditions. On entry, only gleaming wood surfaces and a naked slab of counter for the chef, Masato Nishihara, are visible.
“Vegan” is the closest term, though an inadequate one, for his shojin ryori, or “devotion cuisine,” derived from Buddhist temples near Kyoto.
The menu changes entirely each month, though thin house-made soba noodles are a constant. There are four-course ($50) and eight-course ($70) menus: the last includes dessert and hand-frothed green tea.
In each course, vegetables, from earth and ocean, are twisted and turned, salted and seasoned, spun and cut and carved into jewels, like a slice of sparkling aspic with tiny summer vegetables embedded in it. For saltiness and spark, it’s served in a pool of soy sauce seasoned with yuzu; tiny jun sai, a freshwater vegetable with a natural casing of jelly, also bobbed about. A tomato course (the chef is experimenting with local as well as Japanese vegetables) included poached tomatoes with dots of Japanese mustard, one cape gooseberry (a botanical relative) and a white swirl of noodles made from yam starch in a sweet tomato sauce.
Some were interesting and delicious; some seemed pointless. Occasionally, revelatory flavors explode in the mouth; a creamy soup of white miso and celery root, ornamented with a pink slice of radish, was a perfect dish. But others — notably the desserts, with their sticky textures and grassy flavors — will only mystify New York palates.
For those who mindlessly enjoy dinner rather than study it, Kajitsu is more of a curiosity than a canteen. But for vegans, and students of the endlessly unfolding Japanese food scene, it is a must.