by Michael Tucker
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kajitsu-300x200To celebrate my vegan’s birthday, I called Kajitsu on 9th street in the East Village and made reservations. Actually, I had serious reservations. Kajitsu is Shojin cuisine, which means we’d be eating vegetables and grains as they are prepared for Buddhist monks. Now, I have nothing against monks of any stripe, but they do have a reputation for austerity and that’s never been my go-to word when scouting out dinner.

But this was Jill’s birthday, not mine, so off we went through the biting cold to see what the monks were cooking up. We were greeted graciously and austerely and led to our table in the back. I must say it was wonderful not to hear loud voices competing over pulsing music. Kajutsi offers us only the faint tinkling of a waterfall somewhere off in the distance.

You can order the four-course menu or the eight-course menu and we opted for four. I added a sake pairing with each course, of course. Jill sniffed each sample of my sake because she doesn’t imbibe. But she loved the sniff of each subtle fragrance — each one different, each one perfectly suited to the food it was paired with.

Okay: the food. It is very, very good.

white-asparagus-tempura-300x200Exquisitely prepared, perfectly presented and rich with taste and texture. The first course was a plate of raw vegetables, each one individually cut and coddled like a precious gem. This was followed by a soup with mochi that was very satisfying. Mochi is a Japanese glutinous rice cake that I only knew of as an ice cream substitute, but here it was floating in my hot soup. I actually like the texture; it gives you a run for your money, mochi does.

The third course was some of the best tempura I’ve ever tasted. Kajutsi knows how to fry. The white asparagus tempura was the best thing on the plate — as good a bite as I’ve had in my mouth in a long time.

Jill was glowing with happiness. This was the perfect birthday gift for her — because it demonstrated that I value her tastes and desires rather than sniping at them and belittling them the way I usually do. That was my present to her this year. I was glowing, too, bundled up in my warm sake buzz. 

KAJUTSI: 414 E. 9th Street, New York, NY 10009

Michael Tucker is an actor and author whose recent novel is "After Annie."  He writes about his love of food on his blog Notes from a Culinary Wasteland.

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