Taste the marvelously arranged mixture “cagen” of tradition and modernism, which no other place can offer
Taste the marve...

Taste the marve...

Taste the marve...

Taste the marve...

Taste the marve...

By Aya Ota

There is a restaurant in a corner of the East Village, which is so quietly stands with no sign, and you might pass without noticing. Once you step in, a neatly set-up, and slightly intense, yet comfortable space spreads in front of you, and you forget the city noise outside. From the exterior of the restaurant, you can hardly predict the upcoming surprises and impressions.

Here at “Cagen” restaurant, kappo style Japanese cuisine prepared with various seasonal ingredients, and omakase-style sushi are offered. This is a kind of restaurant where gourmet people who have already been to all the famous restaurants in New York would come by word of mouth.

“We strive for doing thing no one else does”, says Toshio Tomita, the head chef of the restaurant. Mr. Tomita started his career in kaiseki cooking at the age of 15.

He came to US in 1984, worked at various Japanese restaurants, and demonstrated his excellent skills for 16 years at "Nobu", the pioneer, and the most well-known among all New York Japanese restaurants. In 2013, the time was ripe for him to become independent, and he opened this restaurant.

Chef Tomita’s cooking is traditional and genuine, and with creativity and playfulness are added, it creates a unique world. It is especially remarkable in the way to present variety of seafood and the way to serve them. White and blueback fishes which are rare in the US such as menuke, aburabouzu, higesoridai, okaaji, and takabe are procured through a unique buying route. These rare fishes with unique textures and flavors are first treated delicately in various ways such as vinegar-marinating, parboiling, skin-scorching, etc., and then served with a combination of jalapeno and nikiri soy sauce, or raw wasabi and chimichurri sauce, etc. It is surprising that raw oysters are served with puree of little peach, which gives refreshing and unconventional flavor. Only kappo omakase courses were served at the beginning, but by strong requests from the customers who wanted to taste those rare fishes as sushi, he started omakase sushi.

“Ayu-no-sugatayaki”, one of the hot-served dishes, is a result of repeated trial and error. In order to make everything from head to bone deliciously edible, bones, head and body of ayu fish are separately grilled first, and then combined to build the original shape of the fish. Slight bitterness of ayu and cilantro sauce go perfectly together. The sushi dish which appears at the end of the kappo course is unprecedentedly innovative. It is interesting that you wrap nigari sushi with nori to eat. The highest-quality sushi rice from Uonuma, Niigata is cooked only by 1 to 2 cups at a time, and vinegar is mixed into the cooked rice in front of customers. The simple combination of rice, fish, and nori can be tasted fully with your 5 senses.

Soba is also very particularly prepared. Hokkaido buckwheat is imported, and ground with a stone grinder. Two of the three soba strands are served topped with yuzu and black shichimi pepper. You taste the plain strands first, and continue on with yuzu and shichimi to enjoy different flavors. After that, toasted buckwheat, wasabi, and chopped green onion pieces are added to the remaining soba dipping sauce to make a warm soup dish in front of each customer. The completed nice hot soup magically made out of the leftover sauce impresses customers. It is also a special enjoyment for the customers to adjust the taste to each own preference by themselves.

Mr. Tomita’s creation has something more than an expression of “unification of tradition and modernism”. Adding ingredients which are familiar to American customers such as jalapeno, chimichurri sauce, cheese, chocolate, and ham to the unfamiliar ingredients as accents may make American customers curious, and make the unknown ingredients more approachable. Mr. Tomoita thinks that dryness in wine and karakuchi in Japanese sake are different. In order to help customers to select sake drinks, he tries to explain each characteristic using the terms to express wine drinks. You don’t see the glass case filled with sushi ingredients which is usually placed between the chef and the customers across the counter. It requires more explanation and communication to achieve “doing thing no one else does”. Customers can talk with, and watch Chef Tomita work skillfully as they keep eating with excitement as though they were traveling in an unknown world. It is touching to see everything he does from cooking to treating of customers which demonstrates and gives a strong impression of his hope to have customers enjoy unprecedented delicious Japanese cuisine.

“Cagen” is from the Japanese word, cagen, meaning “Just Right”. It can be cagen of the combination of classic and contemporary cuisine, also of the balance of flavoring and decorating, and of distance from the customers, or of the timing to serve dishes. I hope that you go and experience these perfect cagen created by Mr. Tomita!









『Cagen』とは“加減”、つまり“Just Right”という意味。それはクラシックとコンテンポラリーな料理の加減でもあり、味付けや盛りつけのバランスでもあり、客との距離感や料理を出すタイミングなどのもてなしでもあるのだろう。冨田氏が創り出す、パーフェクトな“加減”をぜひ体験してみてほしい。

414 E 9th Street
New York, NY 10009
Tuesday through Sunday
5:30pm- 11:00pm