Who would have thought that NYC’s list of Michelin restaurants would include one that specializes in vegan Japanese cuisine? Angela and I recently visited Kajitsu for our monthly dinner date. This was a slight departure from our usual ramen and soba dates, but still fits with the Japanese theme. Kajitsu formerly held two Michelin stars, and I can’t help but wonder if being a vegan restaurant may have contributed to the loss of a star.
Stepping inside Kajitsu, it felt like such a relief to escape from Midtown. The space is very zen minimalist with a pleasant brightness and warmth. The tables were well spaced out, making it feel like an intimate dining experience even though it was quite crowded. Kajitsu serves Shojin cuisine, a type of vegetarian cooking that originates in Zen Buddhism. We opted for the four course Kaze menu ($55), and our entire meal was like a well orchestrated dance. Every dish was meticulously prepared and beautifully presented with complex, balanced flavors. There are sake pairings, but I decided to stick to Sauvignon Blanc that evening.
First course: full moon soy milk dumpling with artichoke, truffle, lily bulb, young corn, edamame, dark night carrot, black daikon, ginkgo nut. There’s a wonderful sense of anticipation with this first dish. The waitress brings out your tray with the ceramic lid still covering the dish, then there’s the big reveal. What a feast for the eyes and taste buds. The truffle was a nice contrast to the soy milk dumpling.
Second course: early fall vegetable tempura with Dutch flat beans, fushimi togarashi, zucchini flower, nama-fu, potatoes, lotus roots, and carrots. I have tempura from time to time, but have never had tempura quite like this. The batter was light and crispy, quite flavorful on its own, while allowing the vegetables to shine. The plating is just stunning. Love how it’s artfully placed to resemble fall leaves. Third course: lobster mushroom hot pot with baby turnip, golden beets, scallion, napa cabbage, rikyu-fu, onion, mochi, and ginger. Of course, the fall menu would not be complete without a warm and comforting hot pot dish. Fresh, tender veggies in a light broth that’s brightened up the ginger. This dish delivers in terms of flavor, but the plating didn’t seem quite as well done as the previous two. Fourth course: Burdock roots rice with seasonal mushrooms, house made pickles, and miso soup. The soup was absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed the rice bowl, but wish they had a few more mushrooms in there. We were told to enjoy each item separately, but I ended up adding the pickles to the rice for an extra boost of flavor. Overall, a delightful experience with excellent service. However, I feel that the Kaze menu started on such a high note, but the final dish did not fully live up to expectations. If you wow me with the opening number, you’re setting a very high bar for the following dishes. That said, Kajitsu is proof that vegetarians/vegans are not missing out on good food.
I’m sure their desserts would be fantastic too, but we decided against dessert as we had already been at the restaurant for 2 hours and were starting to feel antsy. Compared to most Michelin stared restaurants, Kajitsu is quite reasonably priced. If you’re looking for a top notch dining experience that doesn’t burn a hole in your wallet, give Kajitsu a try.