Rosanjin, New York: Seven courses and sake
This year, The Boy was in charge of finding restaurants. His method was to check out Michelin-starred places on OpenTable, narrow it down to cuisines we were less likely to find in Boston, and then see what was actually available.
Which is how we ended up eating a seven-course traditional Japanese meal, paired with sake, at Rosanjin in Tribeca.
The style of dining is called kaiseki, and refers to a multi-course meal characterized by colorful presentation, a balance of flavors, and the use of seasonal ingredients. Most of the cooking styles are familiar enough: there's a soup course, and sashimi, grilled fish, rice, and tempura. (Wikipedia has a good overview of kaiseki.)
Our exposure to Japanese food is limited. Yes, we love sushi, and we like going to places like Samurai in Boston, where we can get fatty grilled yellowtail collar and monkfish liver.
But we still weren't sure what to expect from this experience. Would it be very traditional and full of ritual? What if they gave us finger-bowls and we drank from them and everybody pointed and laughed?
Rosanjin is a tiny, intimate space with only about ten tables. There's no music (yay!) and the few other diners (all Japanese) talked in hushed tones. Normally, I'd love this, but this time it made me feel exposed: if I messed up, everyone would have a front-row seat.
But of course, I didn't need to worry. The staff was wonderful and patient, explaining every course in detail, giving background on the provenance and flavor notes of each sake, answering all our questions.
It's just a shame that I don't remember most of what they said.
Did I mention seven courses of sake? Actually, eight, because they brought more with the check. Plus there was no menu, so we had no point of reference apart from the verbal description at the start of each course.
So here are nice pictures, with hazily recalled details.
First course: a dumpling of (tapioca or semolina) topped with caviar and fresh wasabi, topped with a single flower petal, in possibly a sesame-laced broth:
Second course: mackerel, fluke, and (something) sashimi. This was almost too pretty to eat.
That carrot, by the way, was about an inch and a half long. Teeny-tiny.
Next, yellowtail and abalone and something with sweet Japanese ginger.
And we're three sakes in at this point, coming up on number four.
One feature of kaiseki is that all the dishware is beautiful, and chosen to enhance and complement the food. The same was true of the sake glasses — no ceramic cups here. Each one was delicate, engraved or painted or marbled with color.
Next, something I hadn't encountered before: a salmon fishcake (though textured more like the dumpling from the first course) in a gelatinous soup, with very umami-ish marinated eggplant and a long, single noodle ribbon, topped with scallion, finished with gold.
Up next, a basket of tempura: asparagus, pumpkin, and eel. Which was fantastic.
The asparagus was not what I'd call seasonal, but hey.
Then came rice and beans. This was a very sticky rice with a scant handful of beans, which The Boy liked (of course), though I found it a little bland. But I loved the accompanying dark, complex miso soup, and the side dish of dried, salted seaweed and soy beans.
And finally, dessert. This was, at least to us, unexpected: strawberry yogurt ice cream and cheesecake. With berries. Nothing seasonal about that. Still tasty, though.
It's possible that some of the courses were customized for us: When The Boy made the reservation, there was a specific question about allergies. As he's allergic to anything with an exoskeleton, we may have had the non-seafood versions of some dishes. That said, the couple at the next table, who ordered the nine-course menu, seemed to be getting more or less the same dishes as we did.
We love living in Boston; food-wise, there are a lot of excellent options. But New York always has more — something different, a new twist, a narrower niche.
Which is why we followed Saturday's classic Japanese dinner with Sunday's nouveau Austrian. And a visit to a speakeasy.