I had a great experience at Cagen tonight. I was a little worried about securing a good omakase on a Sunday, but Chef Tomita-san came through in spades. I did the kappo-style omakase, as the sushi omakase isn't offered on Sunday. I had a couple extra pieces of nigiri to compensate. ;)
Here are some thoughts and a rundown on the food:
As has been mentioned ad infinitum, Tomita-san worked at Nobu for about 14 years and he owns Cagen with his son. It occupies the former Kajitsu space. I found the setting tranquil and appealing, and enjoyed the zen-feel of the sushi bar. As with many "old-school" Japanese chefs, I found Tomita-san's working of the sushi knife excellent, his attention to detail exacting, and the frequent running of water/washing hands relaxing. There is a large wasabi root conspicuously on the bar, which he grates fresh for you, but that's fairly commonplace now. I found the pictures of fish he's received and the buckwheat grinder (if that's a term) more interesting.
Service is pleasant and attentive without being stiff, as I have experienced in places such as Ichimura. Tomita-san began the night a little reticent but opened up after I asked a couple questions about fish, and he saw that I was having a good ol' time.
He mentioned that his sushi omakase has about 15 different types of fish, which is good, but maybe not as eclectic at 15-East and Yasuda heads would come to expect, however, I found it interesting that Tomita-san only orders whole fish, so he uses everything (Masa-san at 15 East, e.g., shares fish with SushiGen).
The pace of the kappo experience was relaxing but well balanced; I never felt as though I was waiting too long for a dish. Admittedly, Sundays are probably easier than Fridays!
You start with a hand towel and the place setting is quite refined. I was disappointed in the quality of the chopsticks, however, which were one step up from prepackaged in paper sheathes!
Let's get to the food:
Amuse - fugu with kelp and edamame in a sweet miso paste.
-I enjoyed this tasty bite, which is surprising as I usually find fugu boring. The kelp added more richness to the taste and the edamame pod or two some texture. The picture makes it look a little sad and weepy
1. First course - this was a flight of different tastes. I love when Japanese restaurants do this. I have heard the term before, but always forget it. Anyway, it included ham hamakatsu (delicious, savory), burdock root (a touch sweet), radish with marinated fish eggs (loved this, forget the term for these yellow fish eggs), white fish (sable-like), and treat bag (goat cheese, wasabi, dark chocolate) for a lotus root chip
-This was a very strong start to the main courses. I liked the juxtaposition between savory and slightly sweet and items such as the fish eggs, which I mentioned to the chef. One nitpick is that the plating was slightly off
2. Sashimi with chimichurri sauce and house-made soy, grated jalapeño and fresh wasabi. This included hirame with fish eggs, mutsu (seared), kinmadai, hokke (seared), and a kumamoto oyster
- The chimichurri held up strong with the seared dishes and almost stole the show. I loved that Tomita-san listened to my exhortations regarding the fish eggs in the first course and added that to the hirame. The soy was delicate, loved it. All the pieces were expertly cut, which made my day
3. House made stone-ground soba noodles, served cold with a good touch of pepper.
So deep yet still light tasting. I was worried this would fall flat after the sashimi and its bold flavors, but it held up well. I felt as though I was Kajitsu
4. Grilled Ayu - served with its own oil and a special dipping sauce. The head and bones were grilled. A nice savory course with a wonderful flavor. Tomita-san told me that ayu is his favorite fish
5. Kasago (red perch) and waygu - The kasago was served over a cauliflower purée with Chinese vegetables, a fried shiso leaf, and a japanese cherry blossom. The waygu was from Japan (small slice but so rich) and served with a sweet sauce over grilled zucchini. The waygu was the more interesting bite to me, as the red perch sounded better but compared to the Japanese beef...
The shari is vinegary and bold. Tomita-san prepped it in a giant wooden bowl a la Ichimura. (His fish were also stored in wooden boxes, as I have seen at 15 East and Kanoyama's Sake Bar). The rice had a good texture, not too fluffy and a touch above room temperature. It reminded me of Ichimura again. If you like Sasabune rice, you would not like it so much! If you like Yasuda rice...well, you're probably missing old Yasuda rice! I digress.
- Chutoro from Japan - strong start. I loved that Tomita-san applies the sauces directly. I have become too lazy to do this myself. The chutoro melted in my mouth and met the "fatty tuna first" requirement in Manhattan
- Marinated maguro from Japan served with nori - make your own handroll. A point of differentiation. I loved it because the nori taste hits you first, then the rice and fish together
- Hokkaido uni - wonderful. This was also served with the nori. It's more rice than your usual piece of nigiri to balance out the seaweed paper
- Toro handroll with japanese pickles - I prefer this with pickles over scallions since you get more texture. I watched Tomita-san prep the toro earlier and cut the pickles...I was gunning for this
Here's where I asked for two more pieces:
- Barracuda from Spain - not 100% sure but loved it. Seared, so held up again the preceding toro
- Firefly squid - perfect touch of sweetness to tap out the sushi course. I had mentioned that Philadelphia (my home base) only has Morimoto, and there you have to browbeat the chefs into serving you traditional fare. I mentioned that last week I enjoyed Firefly squid, which are in season. Tomita-san listened, and it was interesting watching him gut a huge specimen and stuff it with rice and roe
I disavowed dessert because I don't want to get too big!