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.