I recently dined at Kajitsu, a new exciting Japanese shojin cuisine restaurant, which opened two months ago in the East Village section of New York City. Shojin cuisine is an ancient Japanese culinary practice developed in Zen Buddhist monasteries. Following the Buddhist principle of not……taking life, shojin cuisine does not use meat, fish, eggs or other animal products. Meals are prepared from fresh, seasonal local produce, legumes, whild herbs, seeds and grains, chosen by the chef at the peak of each ingredient’s season. Important protein sources are wheat glute and tofu products such as yuba (soybean sheet).
Our dinner at Kajitsu began with a slightly gooey lotus root dumpling with salt pickled plum sauce and was followed by tender-cooked mountain yam with fiddlehead ferns in a crystal clear dashi broth. The third course consisted of three items – spinach and pine nuts dressed with a tofu dressing, koshihikari rice with sugar-sweet corn in a delicately flavored broth and miso flavored carrot pate (in French style). This course was followed by made-from-scratch soba noodles (Chef Nishihara makes his own soba on the premises) and a large platter of crisp, flavorful seasonal vegetable tempura. The meal ended with a bowl of rice cooked with peas (look at plump, bright green spring peas!) and small portions of wheat gluten meat. Every dish showed the chef’s attention to detail and his care to preserve the maximum natural flavor, color and aroma of each ingredinet – a true hallmark of shojin cuisine.
Chef Nishihara worked for ten years at Kitcho in Kyoto, one of the most respected kaiseki (the most formal style of Japanese cuisine consisting of many small dishes served in a prescribed sequence) restaurants in Japan. After spending a two year stint at a soba kaiseki restaurant in Nagano Prefecture, the center of soba cuisine in Japan, where he mastered the soba making technique, he was tapped to be the executive chef at Kajitsu. Kajitsu is at 414 E 9th Street, NYC, 212-228-4873. I can sincerely recommend a visit to experience this wonderful cuisine not often found in the US, and Chef Nishihara is a true master of the art.
I will post the photos on my next blog, since the site is not working properly………..hiroko