It has been a little over 2 years since Cagen opened at the old Kajitsu’s location in East Village. It remains a neighborhood hidden gem until this year’s Michelin list revealed. Cagen is run by Chef Toshio Tomita, who was the corporate managing chef for Nobu. At Cagen, the Tokyo born chef got his first star under his name. This newly found “stardom” has yet fill seats, I didn’t have any trouble getting a reservation. But at Cagen, keeping a reservation is the key! We were told that the cancellation policy is 72 hours prior because all the fished are ordered and flown in from Japan. Diner would be charged full price if reservation is a no show. Moreover, we need to inform Cagen which one of the two Omakase we would be having, so the most premium freshest ingredients would be prepared diners.
On the night we were there, there are very few staffs at sight. Only Chef Tomita, sous chef and two other staffs. We arrived almost 40 minutes late at the semi-basement level restaurant on a quiet evening. The staffs were very patient and accommodating. The only other party at Cagen had already sat in front of Chef Tomita, and began their course. Since we were late, we can’t be chooser. We sat on the other end of the 10 seats counter sushi bar. The space is zen… actually almost the same as the old Kajitsu. Take a closer look, we found Totoro everywhere. That might be the only thing that Chef Tomita had done to this place in terms of deco. Fan of Hayao Miyazaki? Me too!!
Dassai sake flight is only $35. No brainer!!!
Chawanmushi with radish and squash
We started our Omakase with chawanmushi. A couple dices of winter squash in it. Perfect! Simple but to the point. And the simpleness really bring out the freshness of the ingredient. Not that those chawanmushi with truffle and uni are not good, but sometimes it clouded the dish, and made it far too complicated. Sometimes, less is more.
Before us is a slab of fine polished wood which Sushi and ginger were presented on. Ginger, such a simple thing, a common thing to overlook at sushi places. Here at Cagen, they take it seriously. To our surprise, there were 2 kinds of pickled ginger. I absolutely love the thick cut! So fresh, and so perfectly balanced!
Also look at the wasabi, still hydrogenating in water, keeping it fresh!
Since we were told fishes were flown in from Japan and it’s hash cancellation policy, we were excited for what were about to have. And let me just say this first, the varieties of fish did not disappointed. Some of the names, we have not even heard before. Here it is, piece by piece.
Hadai (Japanese snapper) with Yuzu, sea salt and a drop of plum paste sauce.
The combination is genius! The balance with sour, sweet, and salty paying a little wake up call to our taste bud, and it brought out the sweetness of Hadai without overpowering it.
Hirame (Japanese fluke) with ponzu and jalapeño
White fish usually tend to be a bit blend, but Hirame is in season.? Hirame is thinly sliced but double stacked. It enhanced the texture, almost crunchy.
Akayagara (cornet fish)
Very sweet and tender???
Tsumuburi (Rainbow runner)
A member of the yellowtail family. Much like Amberjacks, it’s soft and fatty. This one with a drop of honey mustard. So tender and buttery. Almost like Toro.
Menuke (Japanese red perch) aka Red Rockfish.
The fish looks a lot like Kinmedai, texture is similar too. Menuke is a deep sea, winter fish. Fatty, and extremely tender. The Menuke here at Cagen was smoked. Adding very unique smoky favor. Love it!!!
Japanese octopus With a drop of yuzu
Nodoguro (blackthroat sea perch) with a hint of smoky flavor ??
A very rare silver skin small fish in Japanese deep sea and it is in season. Smoky, tender, and buttery???? I think I’m in love
Kumamoto oyster with sea salt and couple drops of yuzu. Just beautiful.
Smoked squid with yuzu garlic oil
Squid was marinated and lightly warmed to add texture. It is… al dente. ??
From the family of hair-tail fish. Usually it is slightly cooked. This one was smoked, and it added a great aroma and flavor to this already rich piece.
This gorgeous cut is lightly grilled. Chef also used a paper to gently absorb the extra oil, and added with sea salt and house-made crispy chilli pepper. OMG!!! could be the best chili sauce we have had. The crispness and the tenderness of the beef make the perfect couple.
Look at this beauty, need I say more?!
Chu toro was marinated for 5 min and serve on a square cut of nori. We were told the nori was made with a special kind of salt.
Up until this point, we were petty happy with our dinner. Sushi are fresh, unique, preparations are excellent. It is certainly worth that one Michelin star. But it was until Uni is served…
Hokkaido uni is served with nori. Nori was very crispy, enough to hear the cracking when chef was folding it. But the rice was a bit too warm and the moisture of it soften the crunch before it hits out mouth. And that is a big square of nori, in my book, too big for this. First bite, I could only got nori. When I finally got to the uni, nori was too strong, it overpowered uni. I must be kidding right? We are talking about uni. The rich, distinguish, velvety goodness got overpower by seaweed?! But have a look at it. One single tiny little scoop of uni atop a chunk of rice with oversize nori. Call me greedy, but I don’t think Hokkaido uni is that expensive that we can only afford this pathetic little one. And what bothered me the most is, when chef was making the uni sushi, he clearly put more uni on one of the pieces at first, but when he realized the portion of our pieces are uneven. He went and took out uni from that one that was slightly bigger. Well, chef, we were sitting right there at the sushi counter in front of you. Action is in full display here. …
There is a piece of foie gras wrapped inside the eel. Rich x Rich!!!.
Fatty tuna and Japanese pickles hand roll
The fatty tuna was a bit cold, and the rice was a bit warm. One thing I noticed was, the sushi rice here at Cagen are mixed in small portion. During our dinner, Chef had made 3 different bundle of rice. So temperature, and sweetness varies. For this hand roll, it was a bit too warm.
This might be the first time I had Tomago wrapped in nori and with wasabi, and it works. The Tomago itself is very good. A different texture than the one from Nakasawa or 15 East. This is more custard-like, while the other are more sponge cake-like. Also, the Tomago was given a creme brulee treatment. It was layered with powdered sugar and torched 3 times. And I do like the wasabi with it.
So, as it turns out, sushi Omakase is not only sushi. Is it a bonus, or is it an attempt to fill us up. Either way, I am glad I had the house-made soba .
The broth was great! Rich but clear. Very comforting. The duck was good, and the scallion was even better. Soba is house-made fresh by Chef Tomita himself from hand-ground wheat. Excellent texture. Better than a lot of soba places in town.
There were two choices of dessert, green tea ice cream or yuzu sorbet. Of course, the always refreshing yuzu sorbet. Yuzu sorbet is served with pomegranate mandarin grape Asia pear and grape and olive oil. That’s right! Not olive oil sorbet, but actually pouring olive oil over yuzu sorbet. It was amazing. The olive oil helps make the sorbet creamy and gives it a smooth texture. I could have a bucket of this.