414 E. 9th Street, New York


Phone: 212-228-4873

You don't have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the food at the newly opened kaiseki restaurant, Kajitsu in East village. The delicate kaiseki cuisine will keep you happy, full and satisfied even without serving any meat or fish. Aside from being the only true kaiseiki restaurant in NYC (there is no a la carte menu other than a pre-determined kaiseki style set meal), the restaurant is also the only place in the city that serves shoji ryori kaiseki.

Shoji ryori was brought over to Japan from China about 1500 years ago when Zen Buddhism was introduced and spread in Japan. Shoji ryori emphasizes on meatless cooking and the use of vegetables, tofu, fu, leaves and flowers in keeping with its buddhism philosophy of no killing. Shoji ryori also highlight the importance of not wasting anything when preparing dishes, so every part of the vegetable is used in creating a dish (including leaves, stems, roots and seeds). Since there is no meat in the Zen Buddhism diet, fu had been used as substitute as a major source of vegetarian proteins in the diet of the practitioners. Fu is essentially wheat gluten, and Kajitsu's owner is the third generation owner of Fuka, a three hundred year old Fu store in Kyoto that has been making fu for six generations. They were once the official purveyor of fu to the imperial household in Japan.

In Kyoto, shoji ryori can be found in the zen temples or restaurants near the zen temples. Although the dishes are mainly vegetarian, a shoji ryori meal in Kyoto can easily set you back about $100 just for lunch! So you could say that Kajitsu's kaiseki courses is a steal at $50 for Kaze (five courses) and $70 for Hana (seven courses).

Kaiseki is an experience and the dishes served are left to the chef, much like the omakase in sushi. Like Anthony Bourdain, we generally think most vegetarian or vegan dishes can be quite boring, but not the dishes at Kajitsu (much to his chagrin, I'm sure). The preparation and presentation of the dishes at Kajitsu is delicate and the flavors of the dishes are surprisingly much more sophisticated than we could have imagined. The ingredients are of the highest quality and is very fresh. They are sourced both from farms across America as well as Japan, especially Kyoto the capital of the Kaiseki cuisine. The restaurant also changes its menu monthly, so you get to taste different dishes every month!

The shoji ryori kaiseki turned out to be an amazing experience for us. It would have been even more perfect if not because of the couple sitting next to us, who were very loud and obnoxious. Our "zen" moment disappeared as soon as they started with the maddeningly disruptive giggling and laughing!

A Lotus Root Savory "Mochi" served with Plum Sauce and a touch of Shiso Wasabi -- The first course was "mochi" with plum sauce. According to our waiter, it was called mochi because the chef does not know what else to call it. Honestly, it tasted more like dumpling to me than mochi. The crunchy lotus root inside the mochi reminded me of mengkuang and the entire mochi tasted like vegetarian dumpling that my mom makes. The plum sauce was a little too sour for Gan's liking.

Clear soup with spring mountain yam filled with Yomogi paste -- The second course was clear soup with mountain yam with yomogi paste. It was a nice clear soup, but a little bland. The simplicity of the dish did make it easy for us to appreciate the quality of the yam and broth.

(Counter clockwise from top) Spinach tossed with tofu paste, pine nuts and deep fried fu; Roasted corn puree over rice; Carrot pate with poppy seed and mustard-miso -- The third course was a surprise but it was simply amazing. It's a trio of small, delicate dishes that were magnificent in presentation and taste. It was much more sophisticated than we would've imagined for a Kaiseki or Buddhist meal. It definitely had a strong impact and attracted our attention. The sesame tofu, carrot pate and the roasted corn purée rice were very impressive! Gan and I thought the carrot pate was one of the tastiest thing we have eaten!

Home made soba noodles-- Our fourth course was homemade soba noodles. The simplicity of it was almost anti climatic until we had our first bite of the slightly coarse texture but finely pulled buckwheat soba, which was first dipped into a perfectly chilled soba soy sauce that has been mixed with the crispy scallion and fresh ground wasabi. Chef Nishihara is definitely a master in making top quality soba, it was one of the best soba noodles we have eaten for a long time.

Grilled fresh bamboo from Kyoto; Vegetable tempura and deep fried fu --This is the main course. The fried vegetable tempura/fried fu was done really well, not oily and the fried fu with toasted seven spice will leave you wanting more.

Rice with snap peas accompanied by home made pickled vegetables -- The last dish, the snap peas rice with homemade pickles was a light rice dish and the home made pickled vegetables or oshinko were perfect condiments.

Japanese pastry made of blueberry infused azuki -- The dessert was azuki and almond paste with blueberries. The azuki and almond paste were really good, but we were more surprised by how fresh and sweet the blueberries were. The ladies who sat two tables away from us could not stop commenting on the blueberries.

Matcha and a petit four by Kyoto Gion "Kagizen Yoshifusa" - We have been to the Gion area in Kyoto before, a place where you can see the Maiko or Geisha apprentice strolling along the ancient style Japanese street but the sweets were the most memorable part of our trip to that place. The Matcha or powdered green tea was so delicious that I finished all of it before I could take any pictures. The waiter gave me some really good tips in making good matcha which I will try.

Chef Masato Ishihara of Kajitsu. Aside from his experience working at Kitco, a well regarded Kaiseiki restaurant in Kyoto, Chef Ishihara was selected by owner Shoji Kobori because of his specialty in making soba.

*Congratulations to Kajitsu for earning their first Michelin Star (2010)! It was well deserved!

Kajitsu on Urbanspoon

The Day I Saw Bourdain


You know, I am not a chef stalker, but there are certain chefs/food tv show personalities that I can't get enough of (No, I'm really not a chef stalker). Among those people, the host of Travel Channel TV show "No Reservation", the author of Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour, and the executive chef of Brasserie Les Halles - Anthony (Tony) Bourdain, is my favorite. Like many other food lovers, I admire Tony's indulgence in food and culture, and his respect and appreciation for different cuisine, be it Asian or Western, fine dining or street food, foie gras or coagulated duck blood. Tony is willing to try everything and his sense of adventure is quite rare in this part of the world. A progressive figure in the food business. A true food libertarian. My hero.

Gan and I actually loved Tony's Spain episode of No Reservation so much that we planned our trip to Spain (especially San Sebastian) back in February based on the places he visited. We went to the famous Asador Etxebarri, Arzak, Mugaritz in the Basque country and absolutely loved it.

So you can imagine how I felt when my friend Chee Ping walked into Txikito (we were having txoko that night) announcing that Anthony Bourdain and a bunch of other celebrity chefs were all in Co. Pizza three stores away. All I can remember was I ran out of Txikito immediately, armed with my Canon digital SLR like a professional paparazzi and headed towards Co. Pizza. When I saw Tony Bourdain by the window, I almost had a heart attack. I started taking pictures of him, occasionally stopping to get his attention because he just won't look at me!

After our dinner at Txikito, I went back to Co to try my luck again. This time, Mario Batali was sitting next to Tony and he actually helped get Tony to pose for me. Mario Batali, you are the man! Also upon chatting with some nice folks outside of Co, we found out that the event in Co was actually a cocktail fundraiser for Cowgirl Cure Foundation, hosted by Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Co's owner Jim Lahey.

Just wished I had a way to tell Tony about the Malaysia Yaokui trip a group of us are doing end of this year. We thought the Malaysia episode of No Reservation did not showcase enough of good (amazing) food in Malaysia and we yaokuis can definitely do a better job than Chef Wan and show Tony around "our hood". So Tony/No Reservation producer, if you are interested, we'll be eating from Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh to Penang this December, and you are welcome to join us!

Shoot #1 - Can't believe how shy Tony Bourdain is. He totally avoided eye contact with me, even though I was obviously the ONLY crazy person standing outside of the restaurant holding a big ass camera.

Shoot #2 - I sneaked out of Txikito after our final course to see if I can take more pictures. Tony was still avoiding eye contact, but this time, Mario Batali was sitting next to him. Mario immediately noticed me (and my camera), and to my surprise, he grabbed Tony to pose for me!

Shoot #3 - Finally a smile from Bourdain, thanks to Batali!

Txoko @ Txikito with Dave Cruz and 2001 Nobu Crew

When Txikito sent an email telling us that Dave Cruz from Ad Hoc restaurant will be cooking as guest chef at the next txoko, we just had to sign up. Dave Cruz is the chef de cuisine at Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller's more casual, family style comfort food restaurant in Yountville, California. Ad Hoc was originally a temporary restaurant until Thomas Keller opens his hamburger and wine restaurant at the location, but due to popular demand, it became permanent. The restaurant has since received three stars from the San Francisco Chronicle, it’s also listed as one of the Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants. The Calis love Ad Hoc for its daily changing menu and legendary buttermilk fried chicken (we were hoping that the chef would make some for us at the txoko!)

The txoko couldn't happened at a better time; my sister was visiting from Australia, and since Gan and I had a great time at the last txoko, I thought this will be a good experience for her, and a chance for her to soak up some yaokui atmosphere.

With the help of the 2001 Nobu crew, Chef Dave Cruz prepared a three-course menu and a dessert for the txoko. Our first course was a salad with multi-colored beets, medium boiled egg and German butterballs (potato) with mustard vinaigrette. It was my first time trying Chioggia beet (Italian Heirloom beet) and Gold beet, although they are similar in texture compared to red beets, they are milder in taste. It was a nice salad that showcases the color contrast of the beets and their subtle differences in taste.

The second-course was the Alaskan wild halibut with mussels, shellfish cream and sauteed liquidized leek. I thought the fish was poached flawlessly, it may be the best fish dish I've had since Le Bernardin two years ago. Who knew shellfish cream could go together with the fish so wonderfully! The chef also served some grilled sesame toast on the side to use for soaking the shellfish cream and they were fantastic! Our third course was the skirt steak with morel mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke and sun dried tomatoes. The steak dish was so tasty that we all wished we had another serving! The dessert was a simple almond wafer, strawberries with pyrat cream and valhrona chocolate sauce dessert. The same as the rest of his dishes, the dessert was simple yet satisfying.

After the dinner, the chefs came out to meet/greet the customers and had a short Q&A session. Many people were asking about the Wild Alaskan Halibut dish, I guess they liked it as much as I did!

I think it’s important to point out that txokos like this will never happen if not because of Alex Raij. Alex’s ability to invite important chefs from around the country to cook as guest chefs in her restaurant is a testament of her reputation as a respected and beloved chef and person. And because of her good relationship with other chefs and poveyers, we were able to experience really amazing food at txokos, and for that we applaud you, Alex!

Brian makes the nicest drinks. But I had to drink KAS since it's allergy season and alcohol makes me feel more miserable. I'll be back for some txakoli and kalimotxo next time.

Gold, red, cioga beets with German butterballs, arugula, medium boiled egg (from Violet Hill Farms) with mustard vinaigrette

Alaskan wild halibut with mussels and shellfish cream with french breakfast radishes and sauteed liquidized leek

Skirt steak with morels and peas, spring onions, Jerusalem artichokes, oven dried tomatoes

Almond wafer and California strawberries with Pyrat cream and Valhrona chocolate sauce

The Multi-talented Brian

a collage of the yaokuis

Chef Alex Raij and Chef Dave Cruz's Q&A session after the dinner

Chef/owner of Txikito - Eder Montero with the 2001 Nobu Crew

Chef/owner of Txikito - Alex Raij

Chef Dave Cruz

The 2001 Nobu crew (from left: Marlowe, Danny and Frankie) chilling after dinner service



239 West Broadway, New York


Phone: 212-219-2777

It’s pretty impressive how much publicity Corton restaurant gets since its opening in 2008. The restaurant was mentioned on countless food related magazines/online magazines/blogs that the yaokuis has just got to try it out. Being the hottest restaurant in town, it was not easy to score a reservation. But we got one in the end, thanks to our friend Nan, who was checking on opentable.com persistently! We found out later from Corton that it’s actually easier to get a reservation if you call them since there’s only limited number of reservations released to opentable.com.

Corton restaurant, the latest in a long line of successful restaurants from Drew Nieporent of the Myriad Restaurant Group, now occupies the location in Tribeca where Montrachet used to be. We have no doubt that Drew's latest trophy as James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Restaurateur was in some part due to the success of Corton. The restaurant's interior is chic and minimalist, a huge contrast to the flamboyant food which chef /owner Paul Liebrandt puts out. The Food is classic French with contemporary techniques and presentations, and the chef is definitely not afraid to experiment with flavors and spices. We tasted especially Asian spices such as curry (perhaps vandouvan) in some dishes and also some other unfamiliar spices that kept us guessing throughout dinner. His widely publicized use of spices such as the less familiar Sarawak peppercorn, shows his vast experience and knowledge.

There was six of us, and we all went for the 3 course prix fix menu (although Gan and I could really do the full tasting menu). We also ordered a bottle of 2004 Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Valozieres; we just had to have some Corton wine, which the restaurant is named after.

The amuse bouche of foie gras with port Chantilly and cauliflower was amazingly flavorful and smooth, and it got all of us excited about what’s coming next. The Violet Hill farm egg appetizer was excellent, reminded me of a more luxurious version of soft boil egg, a humble peasant food. However, the Foie Gras with Hibiscus-Beet Gelée, Blood Orange although beautifully done, was not spectacular.

Gan went with the flavor of early spring for entree, and I had the Maine lobster with Parmesan Crumble, Burgundy Carrots, Balsamic Brown Butter. I think the word balsamic brown butter was the reason I picked the dish, and I was expecting a very flavorful and fragrant lobster dish. However, the balsamic brown butter didn't taste like what I had imagine, and the lobster dish did not impress me. Gan's flavor of early spring was quite an exciting dish - it came with Daurade, Yuzu Gelée, Peekytoe Crab, Green Mango Scallop, Rhubarb, Shaved White Asparagus Ocean Trout, Yogurt, Caviar. In Gan's opinion, the dish succeeded in evoking the sense of spring with the light flavors and refreshing seasonal ingredients. I think those of us who did not order the flavor of early spring dish were very envious of the multiple plates of food that Gan was getting!

I think the highlight for us was definitely the dessert. I especially love the Vacherin dessert with Meringue, Lychee, Earl Grey, Honeydew. It was plated to look like a snail and it was very refreshing! It was whimsical and definitely shows a great level of imagination. The use of meringue and fruits in dessert reminded us of Will Goldfarb's dessert; and upon checking with the waitress, we found out that the pastry chef Robert Truitt actually used to work at El Bulli and also Room4dessert (now closed) for Will Goldfarb.

One of the biggest attractions of Corton is definitely its chef, Paul Liebrandt. Whether Chef Paul Liebrandt likes it or not, he's one of the reasons why a lot of people eat at Corton. So it was such a surprise when the manager told us the chef does not want us to take pictures of him in the kitchen (or the kitchen). Perhaps the chef should embrace all the attention that comes with being the hottest chef in town, rather than being shy! He has lots of fans! And the attention is not going to die down anytime soon as the restaurant has accumulated quite an arsenal of accolades, from being nominated for James Beard's Best New Restaurant award to Frank Bruni's "The 10 Best New Restaurant of 2008".

Although the food we had that night was a hit and miss, it was abundantly clear to us that this is quite an exciting restaurant which is producing a more subtle brand of "new" French cuisine. It's less about the liquid nitrogen and more about the interesting unconventional spices which brings together quite interesting flavor. We're not entirely bought into the hype yet so the jury is still out for us on Corton.

chef Paul Liebrandt

bread with seaweed butter and sweet butter

2004 Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Valozieres

Foie gras amuse bouche with port hantilly and cauliflower creme

Foie Gras - Hibiscus-Beet Gelée, Blood Orange

Violet Hill farm egg, bacalhao, baby squid, pheasant consomme

Flavors of Early Spring - Daurade, Yuzu Gelée, Peekytoe Crab, Green Mango Scallop, Rhubarb, Shaved White Asparagus Ocean Trout, Yogurt, Caviar

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb loin, braised neck, tamarind jus

Hamachi with Indonesian sweet sauce with parmesan crumbles

Morel mushroom with escargot

Maine Lobster - Parmesan Crumble, Burgundy Carrots, Balsamic Brown Butter

Side lobster with Parmesan crumbles

Dark Chocolate Fondant with Caramel, Yuzu, Olive Oil

Vacherin- Lychee, Earl Grey, Honeydew

petit four

Corton on Urbanspoon