4.0 / 3 votes

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vegan Japanese restaurant

Kajitsu is an all-vegan Japanese restaurant specializing in shojin cuisine. Shojin cuisine refers to a type of vegetarian cooking that originates in Zen Buddhism. Even though it does not use meat or fish, shojin is regarded as the foundation of all Japanese cuisine, especially kaiseki, the Japanese version of haute cuisine. In its present form kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which fresh, seasonal ingredients are prepared in ways that enhance the flavor of each component, with the finished dishes beautifully arranged on plates. All of these characteristics come from shojin cuisine, which is still prepared in Buddhist temples throughout Japan.

The space is small and is decoated in a traditional Japanese manner. Kajitsu serves food using pottery dishware, as dishware is an integral part of traditional Japanese cuisine. The dishes used at Kajitsu were created by master Japanese potters over 300 years ago.

The menu ranges from about $45-65 a meal and items are based on soba (made fresh daily), and fu, a protein-rich building block of shojin cuisine made from gluten and rice flour.

Reservations may be required.

Added by Cass Danger on Apr 10 09 (last updated Jan 19)

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Most Recent Reviews

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Kajitsu is the most expensive vegan dining experience I've ever had, but it's not the best. That said, it's unusual and worth the splurge, if just once in your life.

You get to choose between two prix-fixe Japanese vegan Shojin menus; one of them, the "Hana" menu, is $70 (without tip) and consists of 8 courses. The "Kaze" menu is $50 and only 4 courses. After eating the Hana menu, I realized that my favorite dishes were left off of the cheaper Kaze menu (which, alternatively, featured my LEAST favorite dishes). It seems that the dishes alternate between the bland and the flavorful, and the cheaper menu seems heavy on the bland dishes. I don't know if this would hold true every time, as they change their menus often, but I think the Hana menu is worth getting, just for the variety and experience.

We started off with Chilled White Asparagus and Cucumber with Green Yuzu, and Candied Green Plum with Plum Gelee. This was extremely sophisticated in terms of presentation. The asparagus and cucumber were savory, whereas the palate-cleanser Candied Green Plum was citric. I liked both, though the candied plum had the texture of an eyeball in a gooey covering. Once you get over the texture, the taste is pretty good and unusual, though.

The second course, Red Miso Soup with Eggplant and Mitsuba, was actually quite bland. It lacked the delicious savory taste that miso normally has, and tasted like a watery broth with some eggplant and tofu in it.

The third course, Mountain Yam and Azuki Bean Cake, Parsley Root Potage with Junsai, and Grilled Young Corn, was spectacular. The mountain yams and azuki bean cake were lightly salty and subdued, while the parsley root potage was in a small cup that you took a shot of, and had a wonderful, hearty taste, like a good soup. The grilled young corn was just beautiful to look at---a mini piece of corn in its stalk, nicely marinated in a soy base.

The fourth course, House-Made Soba Noodles with Chilled Broth, was okay, but not great, and the portion size was too large, considering the overall lack of flavor in the dish. I didn't like that the broth was chilled, nor did I like that the soba noodles were only 40% buckwheat (soba should be at least 60% buckwheat). That said, I'd never had house-made soba before, and the quality difference still stood out compared to packaged noodles you buy at the store.

The fifth course, Grilled Nama-Fu and Summer Turnip with Spiced Miso Paste, Porcini Mushroom and Cabbage Tempura with Grated Onion Sauce, and Grilled Shishito Pepper and Patty Pan Squash, was by far my favorite. Everything worked in this course. The nama-fu (seitan) was not your average piece of wheat gluten; in this case, we had three pieces, and they looked like scallops both in color and shape. They had the texture of something in between a marshmellow and a scallop, which meant just the perfect amount of tenderness. They came with a superb miso paste that enhanced the flavor of the seitan and of the turnips. The tempura pieces were just wonderful, as vegan tempura tends to be. Same goes for the grilled pepper and patty pan squash.

The sixth course, Steamed Rice with Trio of Peas and Wakame Seaweed, was bland and simple (in a bad way) and, by this point in the meal, I couldn't even bother to finish the whole of it. I could have made this at home.

The seventh and eighth courses (which I'll combine for brevity's sake), Red Bean Jelly and Shincha Tea Served with Candies by Kyoto Suetomi comprised a subdued, excellent way to end the meal. The red bean jelly was well-executed, but I like the taste of East Asian bean-based desserts, so this was a treat for me. The Sincha tea had too mellow of a flavor for my likes; I would have preferred a light oolong tea instead. The "candies" were amazing; one of them looked like a green lucky charm cereal piece and had a decent taste, though was a bit hard to bite. The blue ice bar thing was really awesome, though; it looked like a piece of blue, wavy ice, but the texture produced an unreal crunch on the outside (easy on the teeth), and a soft, translucent (but not gooey) center. I have no idea how to describe the taste of texture of this thing properly, but it was really cool.

The portion sizes are smallish, though you might start to get full around course six or so. The service was top-notch and friendly. The decor is really sparse, and I wouldn't have guessed that a place this low-key could be so expensive. When we made our reservations, it requests "business casual" attire, which I found kind of annoying (we're vegans, and they're serving the austere food of Buddhist monks, so why should we have to dress up?).

All in all, I like Kajitsu, but it would do well to drop some of its blander dishes, and drop the prices of its prix-fixe menus as well. Tanpopo Noodle Shop (in St. Paul) can make an excellent prix-fixe Shojin meal for $15 and Sutra (in Seattle) does a far heartier prix-fixe vegan meal for $33. I don't see why Kajitsu needs to charge so much for what is a good, but not great, meal.


rating star

As a long time vegan who travels for a living, I make it a point to go to vegan as well as haute cuisine restaurants all around the world, no matter the cuisine or cost. This includes an experience at an authentic vegan shojin restaurant in a Zen Buddhist monastery in Kyoto.

Having spent most of my time in New York I've frequented practically every vegan / veggie restaurant in New York City including Candle 79, Hangawi, Counter, Dirt Candy, Pure Food and Wine, etc. I make it a point to also dine at high end restaurants that accommodate vegans including Per Se, Nobu, Craft, Charlie Trotter's and Alinea (in Chicago).

I've been to Kajitsu three times in as many months and have had the pleasure of experiencing their last three menus which change monthly to feature seasonal elements. Kajitsu combines high-end dining with truly unique authentic ethnic cuisine. The dining experience is exquisite with impressively informed and passionate servers and a tranquil and thoughtfully designed setting (including many antique place settings and furniture). It's worth noting that, as the Kajitsu website indicates, shojin cuisine is considered the foundation of all Japanese cuisine, including kaiseki (which is derived from shojin), and has always been a vegan cuisine.

The menu, as pointed out by other reviews, is prix fixe at a $50 or $70 level and I've always gotten the 8 course meal as it really is the better deal and experience. Neither I, or the more than 20 people (vegan, veg, and none) that have accompanied me, have ever left less than satisfied or hungry.

The sake selections are great and the seasonal frozen sake is a treat in the summer months (the spoon that it's served with has a 1000 year old glass bead hanging from it!) The Nama Fu (something I've never had before in the US) comes from a multi-generational owned family shop in Japan and is a wonderful replacement for the typical seitan / tofu / tempeh ingredients.

At this price range it's certainly a special occasion destination and definitely worth visiting each month to explore the new menu. Every dish is impeccably executed with flawless technique, masterful flavor pairing, and inspiring presentation. Each plate was a joy!

I look forward to our new monthly tradition of visiting Kajitsu.

For pictures and a thorough review of my first visit to Kajitsu, please visit my partner's posting here: http://lagusta.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/your-new-favorite-nyc-restaurant-kajitsu/

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Neighborhood

Kip's Bay

Directions

6 train to 34th or 42nd

Non-Smoking

Accepts Reservations

Prices

$$$ - expensive

Payment

  • American Express MasterCard Visa

Cuisines

  • Japanese

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main image for Kajitsu Homemade tofu with green yuzu gelee Tomato nama-fu with finger lime; rice porridge with chick peas and summer truffles; summer vegetables with kohlrabi puree and kiwi vinaigrette Pureed corn soup with grilled mochi, topped with indian corn kernels, white miso and soy glaze Matcha almond milk panna cotta with sweet azuki paste

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Hours

closed
5:30pm - 10pm

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