On Tuesday, it was down to TriBeCa for Jewish food, Kutsher's, an import from the Borscht Belt. It's a quirky, often fun take on Jewish classics: crispy latkes served with creme fraiche and caviar; pillow-light meatballs in brown gravy; a pickle platter of sours and half sours and green tomatoes; airy halibut gefilte fish, not suspended in gloppy goo. A take on a traditional Jewish meat platter is a thing of beauty, with fatty duck pastrami, chalk-less chopped liver, soft tongue, and even softer corned beef. Served with brown mustard and rye, it reminded me a little too much of deli lunches set forth by my paternal grandmother, back when we all still congregated at her plantation in New Jersey.
A matzo ball soup was light and fluffy, nothing at all like the sluggish specimen my own grandmother makes. But entrees took a less enticing turn. A roast chicken for two was depressingly dry (and in this respect, maybe the restaurant nailed my family's home cooking dead-on). Kreplach were gummy and filled with walnuts, a contrasting texture that I couldn't seem to make work. Duck schmalz fries were a gimmick and tasted like regular fries. The black and white cookie sandwich served for dessert was rock-hard, closer to shortbread than the yellow cake I love so much. A rainbow cookie ice cream sundae was strangely gelatinous, appealing only to me and not to the rest of my dining crew. But a chocolate egg cream brought our table back to 1950s New York and the soda fountains that have long since stopped pouring. So at least that was a resounding success.
My Wednesday meal could not have been more different from Tuesday's. At Kajitsu, the vegetarian Japanese restaurant in the east village, I ordered an eight-course tasting menu, known as this month's Tanenoko Special. Think you can't be satisfied by vegetables alone? Think again. The meal was mostly stunning, undone only by one clunky course. Plum sake to start was cold and sweet and served on ice. Coasters were made from tiny slips of paper, or embroidered pucks of cloth. A carafe of a junmai daijingo came in a cold metal pourer with delicate etched glasses and, later, green tea arrived in handmade ceramic pots.
We started with a salad of spring vegetables--fiddlehead ferns made their first seasonal appearance--in a salty soy gelee. It was delicate and beautiful and important tasting. So, too, was a kohlrabi soup with a grilled patty of something unidentifiable. Creamy and rich, it made the absence of meat unimportant. Next: a bento box of contrasting items. Here, a piece of smoked taro on a skewer. There, a single Brussels sprout with bean paste. Spring scallions and white wood ear mushrooms in a mustard miso, served over a lime. A plum dipping sauce. Magnificent.
Our soba course was springy and chewy and perfectly seasoned. On the side, we were offered scallions and wasabi paste and three perfect bamboo shoots, still toothsome and fried in hot tempura batter. Our "main" course was an unfortunate misstep: phyllo-wrapped gluten with no taste or texture; a weird-tasting worcestershire sauce; tasteless grilled cabbage; snap peas over a deplorably underseasoned parsnip puree. The plate's only star was a mix of glass noodles and mushrooms and leeks cooked in a corn husk.
But a clay pot rice dish brought us back to center, with its sheer delicacy. It was studded with bamboo shoots and accompanied by one of the finest tastes of the evening, an umami-filled red miso soup with mushrooms and a tiny side of pickled Napa cabbage and daikon. Dessert was a mochi filled with red and white bean paste and wrapped in a strange and interesting pickled cherry leaf. Then, tiny candies, one in the shape of a cherry blossom, the other not identifiable, served with two hot mugs of frothy green tea. It was a breathtaking meditation on the importance of putting vegetables in a starring role.
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