Entries in Rosanjin (3)



rosanjin_inside.gifKaiseki is a Japanese tradition from Kyoto that features long multi-course meals in which beautiful presentation is as important as the food on the plate.

Until a year ago, Sugiyama, which carries three stars from the Times, had the Manhattan Kaiseki market almost to itself. It is getting more crowded. Rosanjin opened in late 2006 in TriBeCa. Later this year, David Bouley plans to open Brushstroke just a few blocks away.

Rosanjin doesn’t call much attention to itself—a problem you can rest assured Bouley won’t have. Paul Adams and Frank Bruni were the only mainstream critics to review it. Bruni awarded two stars—relegating it to the indiscriminate scrum of earnest neighborhood joints, pizza places, and steakhouses that have caught his fancy. Forbes awarded four stars, calling it “[one of] the most divine Japanese meals you’ll ever experience in New York.”

Dinner at Rosanjin moves at a quiet and leisurely pace, with the $150 prix fixe meal unfolding over many hours. There are only seven tables, and I get the idea that they are seldom fully booked. There were just two other parties when we were there, and that was on a Saturday night.

The owner, Jungjin Park (who is from Korea) choreographs a tiny staff, who could be part of a ballet. Every plate, no matter how tiny, is placed or retrieved individually with two hands. Mr. Park is the only one who speaks, which he does in such quiet tones that one feels almost obligated to whisper, even when he is not within earshot. There is no menu. You are served whatever Mr. Park is offering that day.

Mr. Park’s collection of sake decanters belongs in a museum. For us, he produced a sphere resembling a tea-pot, with a removable center core that he filled with ice. At another table, the decanter looked like a tall vase. We asked him why he chose one or the other. He replied, “It is according to my mood.”

I felt that flash photography would be inappropriate, and unfortunately the photos don’t do full justice to the beautiful creations that come out of Rosanjin’s kitchen. 

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The first course (above left) had three contrasting dishes: 1) monkfish liver with tofu and sesame paste (lower left of photo); 2) Japanese clam with brocolli rabe, white asparagus and brussels sprout (top); 3) grilled fresh scallop in a squash puree (bottom right). All three were impeccably assembled and gorgeous, with the monkfish liver especially standing out.

I didn’t photograph the second course, which came in a lovely black bowl decorated with painted pink flowers. Inside was a fish broth with lobster, fried tofu, two pieces of string bean, and orange rind.

The third course (above right) had pieces of raw snapper, medium fatty tuna, squid and codfish on a bed of shredded radish and shiso leaf. Alongside  was a bowl of fresh salmon roe, which Mr. Park advised us to drink like fruit juice and two contrasting sauces for the fish.

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The sushi course (above left) presented the evening’s only choice: fatty tuna or eel. Mr. Park commended our judgment when we both chose the tuna, which was heavily marbled like a ribeye steak. He told us it was a rare variety from the cold waters between Japan and Russa that is seldom available in New York. According to Mr. Park, 99.5% of it goes to Japan, Boston, Spain, and Croatia.

Next came Kobe beef tempura (above right), spinach salad with walnuts and pecorino Romano. This course was one of the evening’s few duds. Kobe beef feels like a default luxury, but I hardly tasted much beef at all—Kobe or otherwise.

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Next, a slice of baby yellowtail teriyaki (above left) came with a blade of “shishito” bean and two ginko nuts (“break with your hands and enjoy”). It was impeccable and beautiful, like everything else, and we enjoyed the texture of the warm fish against the cool lima bean. But I didn’t feel that cooked fish was the kitchen’s strength.

Waves of flavor and contrast washed over us, and I don’t recall any specific impression of simmered codfish (above right) with a radish, Japanese spinach and ginger.

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The savory portion of the meal ended with a striking soup (above left) of egg white, vegetable and turtle (“which is very much a delicacy in Japan”), with pickled vegetables. Dessert (above right) was yet another striking combination — crème brûlée, chocolate ice cream and mango juice — though none of these items alone would have been especially memorable.

As this was our first kaiseki experience, I don’t have anything to compare it to, except for the long tasting menus in Western restaurants. But there was only one clear miss (the tempura) dampening the parade of truly exquisite creations, served in a serene environment that almost makes you forget you’re in Manhattan. We will certainly be back.

Rosanjin (141 Duane Street between West Broadway & Church Street, TriBeCa)

Food: ***
Service: ***½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***



The Payoff: Rosanjin

As expected, Frank Bruni awarded two stars to Rosanjin.

It’s hard to complain about this review. Yes, it displays the usual Bruni foible of dancing around the subject, instead of hitting it straight on. By my count, it’s not until the 15th paragraph that Bruni actually says anything about the food. Once he gets there, he mostly loves it.

But in other ways, I have to give Bruni some credit—which I’ve seldom had occasion to do. Until now, Bruni has mostly been known for smacking down sacred cows, and giving rave reviews to places the foodies had long ago discovered. Unlike the Duke of Plaza-Toro, Frank Bruni didn’t lead fashions; he followed them. What kind of critic are you, if all you do is ratify other people’s judgments? With Rosanjin, you could say he “discovered” a place that practically everyone else had ignored.

I would add that I haven’t been to Rosanjin, so I have no idea if the rave is deserved. But at least Bruni, for the first time that I can recall, actually led critical opinion about something, rather than just ratifying it.

Eater and I both took the two-star bet at 5–1 odds, winning $5 apiece.

  Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $10   $14
Gain/Loss +$5   +$5
Total +$15   +$19
      * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 5–1   5–1

Rolling the Dice: Rosanjin

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank “Samurai” Bruni reviews Rosanjin, the Japanese kaiseki restaurant in TriBeCa. Eater’s official odds are as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 5-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 5-1
Three Stars: 30-1
Four Stars: 15,000-1

The Skinny: As Eater notes, Rosanjin “has generally flown below the radar.” I found only one review. Paul Adams of the Sun enjoyed himself, but thought that Sugiyama was better at half the price. Price, indeed, is the issue. Rosanjin’s prix fixe is $105–150, as opposed to $68 at Sugiyama. (When Adams dined at Rosanjin, he paid $150.)

Sugiyama carries three stars at the Times, dating from a 1999 Ruth Reichl review. Bruni is highly price-sensitive, so he’s not going to award three stars tomorrow unless Rosanjin is considerably better than Sugiyama. Adams didn’t think it was, and Bruni generally follows other people’s recommendations; he doesn’t lead them. To put it another way, it’s highly unlikely that there’s a three-star restaurant in the shadows that all the other critics have missed.

Yet, Bruni usually doesn’t review restaurants everyone else has ignored, only to insult them. For a restaurant at Rosanjin’s price level, anything below two stars would be an insult. On top of that, Bruni’s discretionary reviews — the restaurants he chooses to review, rather than those he must review — are usually two stars.

The Bet: No outcome below four stars would utterly surprise me, but I find three stars distinctly unlikely, and Eater hasn’t made the one-star odds (3–1) sufficiently enticing. Therefore, we are once again making the same bet as Eater: two stars for Rosanjin.