The pursuit of "just right"...
For Chef Tomita, the culinary art of "just right" starts early EACH DAY.
Even the most basic and fundamental elements of Japanese cuisine - wasabi, soy sauce, nori, and soba noodles - are tended with the utmost care and deliberation. Fresh ingredients are often sourced directly from Japan, from sources that yield only the finest of nature's creations. Chef takes meticulous steps to sure that everything is done "just right" from scratch. Through this commitment to perfection, the traditional minimalism of Japanese cuisine finds its truest form and expression.
Japan's mountainous soil and weather make a vital difference in wasabi's scintillating spiciness. Cagen sources its germinated wasabi plants from Japan, and grows their roots for weeks and months until they can finally grind them freshly every night at the restaurant.
These carefully sourced wasabi roots possess delicate taste. As a traditional metal grinder's harsh material can destroy the subtle nuance and texture of fresh wasabi, Chef Tomita uses dried sharskin stretched across Japanese granite, a traditional Japanese technique, to grate hiw wasabi and preserve its delicate form and flavor. Only through this painstaking process, does one come to experience what wasabi really should taste like.
NYT's critic Pete Wells best describes the care that goes into Cagen's soba:
"[The Chef] grinds his own buckwheat flour between a pair of heavy granite stones from whole grains shipped from northern Japan. 'When the grain is fresh, the color is more green,' he said while working on the soba in his kitchen one recent afternoon. 'Using the stones the old-fashioned way keeps the grains and the flour cooler than with a machine. And the flour is best when it is fresh.' He sifted out the husks, and the fine flour dropped into a big red lacquer bowl. Gradually, he mixed in water to make a smooth, grayish-green dough. It went on a floured surface, and Mr. Tomita rolled it out with a long wooden pin, first into a circle, and then with deft rolling motions, it became a square that he folded and cut into fine noodles with a special cleaver-like knife."
From the massive seafood auction in Japan, Chef Tomita sources the finest quality aotobi nori - a unique blend of green and black seaweed - known for its rich umami. Cagen is the only place in the U.S. that imports this rare kind of nori.
Often presented on this piece of nori is sushi or sashimi made from the special fish of the day. "Exceptional." It's how Pete Wells of NYT describes Cagen's rare and fresh Japanese fish - carefully selected from the competitive Japanese auction market and flown in to New York overnight. The prepared fish is served with unique, house-crafted soy sauce and ginger, all meticulously made from the scratch by Chef Tomita.