By Yamini Lal, Foodable Contributor
Shojin Ryori, or Buddhist cuisine, is vegan in nature. Developed in Buddhist monasteries, it is based on the fundamentals of non-violence. When this tradition came to Japan, it mingled with the Japanese culture of tea-drinking. That, in turn, led to the Kaiseki tradition (Japanese version of haute cuisine), a multi-course eating style focused on vegetables as the star of the meal, lovingly extracting flavors from a variety of seasonal ingredients. Kajitsu brings this cherished Asian tradition to New York in an authentic and memorable way.
The first thought that will strike you when you enter Kajistu is an overwhelming sense of zen. A quiet, peaceful environment, with clean and minimalistic interior matches the utterly calm, efficient and super attentive service. Situated in the heart of Manhattan, it is remarkable how Kajitsu manages to shake all your worries away in one instant, and takes you to a place where your body, as well as your mind, are guaranteed to feel rejuvenated.
Food at Kajitsu is prepared with great perseverance, precision, tenacity and focus. It tastes like a result of pure meditation. There is a deep reverence and understanding of the ingredients. Everything on the plate is there for a precise reason, and all of the ingredients come together to create the optimal flavor profile which one may call “umami.” The textures, as well as temperatures, play a beautifully delicate dance with your senses, as the flavor notes hit your palate to create a complete experience.
While Shojin Ramen is the one dish that brings most people into Kajitsu, the Ichiju Sansai is also an experience worth having. It is a traditional set menu of three seasonal dishes (one main and two sides) served with white rice, miso soup and housemade pickles. All the dishes arrive at the table with precise timing. The server explained that it is customary to have the items placed in a triangle, the diner eating a bite of each iteratively. Following this rule, you will find that your palate will constantly experience sweet, salty, spicy and tangy notes along with hot, warm and cool temperatures — one after the other. It becomes an addictive experience, and while traditionally you are supposed to put down your chopsticks after each bite, you may find it hard to do so.
The menu is dependent on seasonal ingredients, so it changes monthly. In February, the main star of Ichiju Sansai was Panko Fried Portabella Mushroom with Ponzu Sauce. With unbelievably light and crunchy exterior, the heartiness and bold flavors of this dish would ensure no one to notice the absence of meat or fish. The miso soup was memorable with an exceptionally rich depth of flavor. With ingredients like mushrooms and other hearty vegetables, miso, green matcha tea, ponzu and more, a meal at Kajitsu is bound to be satisfying, surprising and superb!