Kajitsu: Shojin Cuisine

BY Lisa Lindblad

April 14, 2012

On Manhattan’s LES resides a moment – an experience of quiet, meticulous proportions that surprises while it comforts.  Enter a an oasis of calm on a gritty east 9th street and find a long sushi counter and a scattering of butcher block tables.  The interior is not as beautiful as it should be but, perhaps, that is not the point.

Here you will be offered Shojin cuisine, an ancient Japanese cuisine developed in Zen Buddhist monasteries. Following the Buddhist principle of not taking life, Shojin cuisine does not use meat or fish. Meals are prepared from fresh, in season vegetables, legumes, wild herbs, seeds and grains, chosen at the moment in the season that best reflects their flavor.

The offering is kaiseke here..a series of small dishes that have been designed seasonally by the chef.  There are two menus – Hana and Kaze – and each can be paired with sakes.  We chose Kaze, the smaller of the two with four dishes, and enjoyed a meal that told the story of seasonal transition.  My favorite dish was the Spring Vegtable Sushi with Cherry Leaf, a composition of thinly sliced vegetables nestled against fragrant rice and covered by a salted, fried cherry leaf.  Each of our courses was interpreted for us and here we were told that the cherry leaf is winter’s overcoat (the salt crust on the leaf did indeed look like ice) and, once eaten, it reveals the stirrings of spring underneath.

Nicest of all were the sake pairings – the  Denshini being my favorite – that came with each dish.  And, yes, my inexperienced palate could actually detect the marriage of the ingredients with the different sakes.

Delicious.  Tantalizing. Transporting.

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There are so many delicious Japanese restaurants in New York..we are indeed fortunate.  Yesterday, however, I discovered one more on East 15th Street, aptly named 15 East Restaurant.  It was one of those serendipitous evenings.  Jeremy, Katie and I found ourselves on 14th Street West with a looming sky and hungry tummies.  And Jeremy, ever the foodie, steered us, sans reservation, to this Michelin starred sushi eatery.  The restaurant, a two-roomed affair with the sushi bar in one and nicely spaced tables in the second, looked not only alive but full.  And yet, there was the perfect three top, the only empty table in the restaurant, and we were in luck.

[caption id="attachment_5352" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Chef Noriyuki Takahashi Chef Noriyuki Takahashi[/caption]

Oh my..what a delicious dinner we had!  We started with an array of sushi beautifully plated on a long, white ceramic dish with a clump of fresh ginger and their own wasabi that comes from the Izu Peninsula.  As well, I had my all time favorites -- uni, brought from California and Japan, and botanebi, the tiny spotted sweet shrimp.  And then we shared a delicious Arctic Char with poached root vegetables fresh from Union Square Greenmarket, a perfect coda to the dinner.

Relaxed, pretty, easy and, quite simply, delicious

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15 East Restaurant