"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kajitsu - March 26, 2011

According to the quintessential shojin ryoyi bible, Dogen’sTenzo Kyokun (FN1)” there are four cooking principles:

1. Five cooking methods must be used: Raw, stewing (boiling), grilling, frying, steaming;
2. Five flavors must be present: Sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, salty;
3. Fiver colors must be present: Red, white, green, yellow, black
4. Each ingredient must be utilized fully so that there will be no leftovers.

The corollary of the fourth principle is that in order to taste each ingredient, the seasoning must be kept to minimal and, therefore, stimulants must be avoided: e.g. garlic and nira (Chinese chives).

Shojin Ryori is the cornerstone of Japanese cuisine:  Prior to the development of shojin ryori, the dishes were prepared in a rather laissez-faire way so that the diners had to season their own dishes.  It was the teachings of Zen Buddhism that introduced the concept of appreciating food in all its stages - the creation, the service and the consumption – because everything one did was could be a part of the pursuit of understanding.  Therefore, historically, the position of a tenzo, the cook, had enjoyed a high status in the hierarchy of a temple.  
Steamed Tofu and English Peas with Kuzu Aonori Sauce, Ginkgo Nut, Ginger

The silken tofu was shockingly bland, almost enough to turn away an aspiring monk. The English peas seemed still dormant in their pods despite the calling of the vivid green uguisu sauce – named after a bird, which is a symbol of spring. The only sign of life of this sleepy dish was the salted ginkgo nut placed like a Do-Not-Disturb sign.

Sushi Ball with Salted Cherry Blossom , Mitsuba, Boston Lettuce, Wasabi / Salad of Wakegi, Shungiku and White Wood Ear Mushrooms with Mustard Miso / Grilled Kabu Turnip with Yomogi Sauce

The mitsuba (a strong Japanese herb, resembling cilantro in its force and shape, commonly used in consommé) and wasabi on the dainty sushi ball were excessive and overwhelmed the delicate fragrance of the cherry blossom. It is strange that the cherry blossoms do not smell when alive and blooming, but become vaguely tart and aromatic when salted. As for the second of this trio, the yomogi (a Japanese herb with an earthy aroma) paste had congealed unappealingly and unappetizingly on the dried grilled turnip. The only whiff of spring hid its arrival in the crunchy wood ear mushroom in the salad of wakegi (a type of spring onion with a light flavor) and shungiku (a Japanese leafy green that is somewhat similar to yomogi in appearance of taste).

Potage of Nappa Cabbage with Tiny Beet and Shallot, Wonton Skin, Nama-Fu, White Sake

Milky mucous liquid concealed an embryo-sized beet, a slippery and pointless wonton skin; and, it was flavored with non-existent sweet white sake (FN2).

House-Made Soba, Watercress, Watermelon Radish, Horseradish, Scallions

I had earlier circumvented the Chef’s constantly inadequate soba by asking for a replacement. Our juvenile waitress, defensive and irked by any questions from the diners due to her inadequacy and ineptitude, was incredulous that I had made such a sacrilegious request. The problem was that if I ordered the smaller course, sans the problematic soba, and the agedashi namafu (fried namafu in dashi - a superb dish) as an extra, as she condescendingly suggested, I would have to miss out on the sushi ball (offered only as a part of the larger course). While this seemed a perfectly logical dilemma to me, it was beyond her limited intellect could grasp: “I see,” she said with unhappy clouded eyes.

I, forever the optimist or the compulsive tester, nonetheless, tasted the soba: Everyone at my table must contribute (or pay a tribute) to me in the name of research and discovery. The broken – despite the 2:8 = Wheat: Soba ratio for easier handing - pale soba proved once again its inedibility to my grime satisfaction.

Aburi-Age (Fried Tofu)

Having being denied the agedashi namafu as a substitute, I was given this fried tofu with hojicha (a savory Japanese roasted tea) sauce. The splendid tea sauce was infused with a roasted smokiness that would and could have gone very well with the fried tofu; however, the dish was ruined by the fact that whoever fried the tofu (the chef remained at the counter, so it must have been one of his lesser understudies) had neglected to drain off the oil so that the tofu oozed oil and dripped oil.

Grilled Bamboo Shoots with Arugula Tempura, Yuzu Pepper Oil / Steamed White Asparagus with Nama-Fu, Fermented Tofu Sauce

Young spring bamboo shoots betrayed my expectation for lacking the characteristic pleasing herbal scent. The accompanying arugula tempura, again, was drenched in oil. Another one of my favorite spring vegetable, the white asparagus, fought against the sweet fermented tofu sauce, which tasted uncannily like the ubiquitous duck sauce. The only saving grace was the namafu (nama – raw; fu - a sticky gluten product) - in pumpkin and yomogi – which was as lovely as usual: After all, the mastermind behind Kajitsu is Fuka - a shinise in Kyoto specialized in the fu (what else).

Steamed Rice with Diced Abalone Mushrooms / Spring Cabbage with Caper and Italian Parsley / House-Made Pickles

Chef Nishihara’s rice preparation has never failed to excite a sense of wonder: The exquisitely cooked chewy rice was delicately scented with the abalone mushrooms. But the true genius of this dish was the slaw of young and sweet cabbage in which the crunch from the cabbage, the sour caper and minty parsley created a delectable spring opus in the spirit of Schurbert’s “Trout” Quintet.

Preserved Plum in Honey

This was served complimentary by the blushing chef in response to my gushing compliments on the rice. The salty plum from Japan’s most famous plum region was sweetened with honey. In order to savor purely the interplay of salt, sweet and sour, I rolled bits of soft plum flesh around my tongue.

Mochi Ball with White Bean Paste and Basil

Instead of yomogi, basil had been interestingly and successfully used to create this light and fluffy mochi with a pleasingly subtle white bean paste, which was shaped into a four-cornered “ball” by the Chef: As the Chef himself admitted, rolling the soft dough into a ball required much skill. The improvement of Chef Nishihara, originally untrained in the arts of Japanese sweets, was noted as the desserts at Kajitsu used to look quite out of shape – I remember the one which desired to be a purple ayame (Japanese iris) but succeeded in resembling a crumpled flower – with a taste to match.

Kumquat Sorbet with Coconut Cream and Blueberry Sauce

Refreshing with the tang, the sorbet was charmingly sitting in a petit intricately carved glass dish, edged in gold, with a gold spoon with a dangling stone. Even in such a small one-bite plate, the Chef created a medley from the tangy kumquat, rich coconut and the grassy blueberry.

Matcha Tea with Candies by Kyoto Suetomi

I was quite honored to receive the tea, served in a beautiful yuteki tenmoku (FN3) bowl. The vivid green against the sheer black of the bowl was already handsome like a Rothko painting; and yet with the exquisite silvery flecks strewn and simmering as if on water, it was a mirage.

FN1:  道元 - 典座教訓

FN2:  Customarily drunk at Hina Matsuri – the Girl’s Festival on March 3.

FN3:  Tenmoku is a highly coveted style of Japanese pottery, originated in China, which features a deep black glaze due to the oxidization of iron contained in the glaze. A type of tenmoku, yuteki tenmoku are created with divinely beautiful silvery flecks in the wares.

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1 comment:

  1. You are basically the worst. Stop doing what you're doing.