March 11, 2007

141 Duane Street
dinner only, closed Sundays 

On March 10, 2007, Linda and I dined at Rosanjin, which had opened as a small restaurant in December 2006 after starting as a caterer and takeout establishment earlier that year. The style is modern Kyoto Kaiseki: a tasting menu of small dishes in which the composition of the ingredients on a beautiful serving dish is as important as the cuisine itself. The name and tradition has evolved from small meals served as part of a tea ceremony. 

Its entrepreneur, Jungjin Park, named Rosanjin for a renowned Japanese calligrapher, ceramicist, and all-around aesthete who was so unsatisfied with the presentation of the food he found in restaurants that he opened ro-1.jpghis own. We were the first diners to arrive and were warmly greeted by Mr. Park. He offered us a choice of tables; we took the one in the front niche. There are seven tables, well spaced in a Japanese modern décor with three striking floral arrangements in Japanese vases on side tables. There is no menu. One eats what he brings, but he did ask us to choose between sea eel and toro tuna for one course. He also brought a sake menu and we ordered a bottle (more on this later.) He served the sake and the early courses himself, which allowed us to have conversations with him on each one. After most of the tables were occupied, he could only stop by occasionally, but each dish was elegantly presented and described to us. He has engaged a chef from Kyoto. He occupies himself with the customers and the business.



The first course was four small bowls, each a work of art in its pottery and composition of the food.  There were so many elements in each one they are hard to describe. I was reminded of Pierre Gagnaire’s complex cuisine after he reemerged in Paris.  I think the four main ingredients were: abalone, a Long Island Sea Scallop, squid and an exotic mushroom. They were all delicious with the ingredients well chosen to contrast and complement.  



Second was a clear seaweed and fish broth; floating in it was a sort of dumpling made of cod mousse inside a red snapper wrapper all wrapped in a Japanese cabbage leaf. 



Third came a rectangular fish dish on crushed ice with pumpkin and daikon radish in fine julienne. There was a purple flower on top which one put in the excellent home-made soy sauce to enhance its flavor. There was a dab of freshly pureed wasabi to put directly on the fish, a selection including fluke, toro, mackeral and others. There was a shiso leaf for wrapping the last piece. 


Mr. Park explains the fish to Linda. 



The fourth course was two pieces of delicious sea eel sushi served with a triangle of a fresh slice of ginger. The sea eel was more elegant and lighter than the unagi, or river eel, which I order frequently at sushi restaurants. 



The fifth plate was tempura. It included crisp little baby eels and delicious uni, or sea urchin, wrapped in a shiso leaf.



Sixth was a piece of Japanese red snapper served with a Japanese fruit which looked like an apricot and tasted like a lychee. There were also two little spheres of a sweet potato marzipan.



Seventh came a piece of cod wrapped in a cylinder of daikon ribbons; it was served with a Japanese mushroom and a carrot knot.



The eighth course was three lean pieces of beef, two very crisp rice balls with pine nuts, a little side dish with crisp cucumber slices and a root purée colored with eggplant and a small bowl of miso soup.



Dessert was sesame ice cream, topped with fruit slices, a glass of mango juice and a fresh chocolate truffle. ro-14.jpg


Finally Mr. Park served us a cup of his delicious green tea of which he said he is particularly proud. 

The fish and vegetables were fresh and cooked lightly, but enough. It was clear that the sauces and garnishes were freshly made and noticeably superior to even the best soy sauce or wasabi from a bottle. Even so, one used the sauces sparingly. It is, of course, frustrating to have only one or two bites of something excellent. Mr. Park told us that Kaiseki cuisine should not be too delicious as that would detract from considering it as a whole. Despite that axiom, the cuisine was delicious. The interesting, and quite varied, serving dishes of pottery, lacquer or glass were modern Japanese. The cedar chopsticks are traditional for the tea ceremony. Mr. Park told us that one of his problems is that so much has to be washed by hand.  The only course I found disappointing was the dessert: the sesame ice-cream was bland, the mango juice ordinary and the truffle not what we think of as Japanese, although Mr. Park said it was nowadays. He also said that in Japan the kaiseki dessert would be sweet fruits. Dessert was by far the least pretty presentation. I would think there are many possibilities to be developed with sweet beans or rice or fruits. 

We had chosen the restaurant after reading an extensive write-up in The New York Sun. Although that had been only a few days before, the menu described was very different from ours. Mr. Park said that they would keep a record of what we had so there would be no duplications at our next visit. I replied that I would love to have another bite of most of the morsels.  

It is interesting to compare this meal with the tasting menu in a top restaurant in France. They both start with a series of beautifully presented fish, seafood and vegetable dishes. The French, after the amuses-gueules, will provide more of each item; their presentation depends on arrangements of the food on neutral backgrounds rather than on decorated and imaginative serving vessels, but it is well known that many of the most famous French chefs have had Japanese chefs in their kitchens to inspire better presentation. Naturally, the eventual meat course is more substantial; there is usually a cheese course and the desserts are from a whole different planet. But I came away from Rosanjin feeling very satisfied and, except for the dessert, not being picky and critical of perceived flaws as I always can be at even the best French meal.



We had two bottles of sake, which seems like a lot, but one is constantly sipping as one tastes little bits and the glasses were refilled quickly. We were at the table for two and a half hours. The pace of the meal was perfect; we were not rushed or left to linger. Each course was served with ceremony. The first sake, Tenryo Hidahomare, was dry without being at all boring. It was served in little decorated Japanese glasses. The second, Ugo no Tsuki, was fuller and more earthy. It was served in slightly larger cups with sort of an Imari decoration. The sake was poured from carafes with inserts for ice. The second carafe was a charming glass teapot. 

There were only eight other diners that Saturday evening, leaving one table empty. The other men were all in jeans, leaving me, the oldest by far, looking antiquated in my blazer and cherry blossom necktie. But they were neat, quiet and seemed to be very interested in the meal. There is pleasant calm background music.  ro-10.jpg ro-12.jpg













Mr. Park serves sake from the teapot carafe.

Dessert is presented.



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2 Responses to “Rosanjin”

  1. Blair Ridder Says:

    A delightful description of high cuisine from a culture I know little about. Your photo of the fish sashimi is exquisite, in general the photography adds a level of depth to the reviews that couldn’t be acheived with words alone.

    My favorite reveiw to date!

  2. […] possibilities. Interestingly, the reviews were, and still are, scarce. Country Epicure has been twice, impressed with both visits. The New York Journal gave it a very favorable review. The New York […]

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