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Kajitsu

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East Village
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Diners often compare eating great food to a religious experience, but at Kajitsu—possibly New York's only kaiseki restaurant to offer the centuries-old Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine known as shojin, from which modern-day Japanese cooking is thought to have developed—there's something literal in the restaurant's connection to the divine. As you step through the sliding paned-glass doorway, the sparse, hushed interior—earthy beige walls, a stone floor and weighty dining tables each made from a unique wood—suggests a reverence for nature that is also expressed in the food. After we selected the eight-course tasting menu, which changes monthly, a procession of small plates was delivered by attentive yet unobtrusive servers. For those accustomed to bold flavors, the preparations can at first seem understated to a fault. But with each jewellike course, the meal emerges as an artful meditation on simplicity and seasonality. Flavors are clean and subdued: a clear soup with neutral white yam harbors grassy yomogi (Japanese mugwort) paste; a mochi orb, speckled with bits of crisp lotus root, contrasts nicely with a dab of preserved-plum sauce; wedges of grilled fresh bamboo shoots leaning against their own husks are mildly sweet; glistening rice cradles fragrant roasted-corn puree. Often, texture upstages taste, especially in the case of the delightfully chewy wheat gluten called fu (Kajitsu's owners import it from their 250-year-old Kyoto shop that once supplied the Imperial Court). The shape-shifting ingredient makes multiple appearances—deep-fried in tempura batter, as spongy cubes mixed with spinach and tofu paste. Though nothing we ate shouted for attention, all the subtleties added up to a memorable, if not exactly sacred, meal.—TONY

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Venue name: Kajitsu
Contact:
Address: 414 E 9th St
New York

Cross street: between First Ave and Ave A
Opening hours: Tue–Sun 5:30–10pm
Transport: Subway: L to First Ave, 6 to Astor Pl
Price: Four-dish prix fixe: $50; eight-dish prix fixe: $70. AmEx, MC, V
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