Experience the Art of Kaiseki at New York's Kaikagetsu
Beef connoisseurs from all over are encouraged to run, not walk, to Kaikagetsu to enjoy some of Japan's most prized beef, also known as Hida Wagyu. The high-class Lower East Side restaurant showcases the luxurious and elevated kaiseki-style dining experience, marked by its paced, multi-course design, flush with small, appetizer-style dishes, or sakizuke, and sashimi-style dishes, or mukozuke. Among these, diners get the unique chance to experience the tender quality of exceptional beef from the city of Hida, Gifu prefecture, known for its distinct marbling, texture, and unique fragrance.
Designed by Chef Atsushi Murayama, Kaikagetsu's seasonal menu is inspired by Japanese flavors and fresh, local ingredients. The restaurant's intimate setting, adorned with warm lighting and antique wooden features, sets the perfect atmosphere for a special evening, complete with curated sake and rare, aged Japanese whisky selections. Despite its humble exterior, this hidden gem is ideal for romantic evenings or private parties, and guests will surely experience a truly unique kaiseki dining experience.
Tomoyuki Iwanami, Kaikagetsu's Chief Creative Officer, spoke with us to provide deeper insights into the behind-the-scenes magic.
Tell us about the concept behind Kaikagetsu. What's the story behind how it made a name for itself on New York's culinary scene?
Almost hidden amongst the vibrancy of Orchard Street, our restaurant is proud to call itself the first Kaikagetsu restaurant outside of Japan. Over 20 years ago, the Tokyo location's designer imported remnants of an old house from Gifu prefecture to create the restaurant's Lower East Side location—that’s where our connection to Gifu and Hida City all began.
Although all three locations are different, I wanted to retain elements of Hida and Japan while also incorporating elements from its name: kai, or "ocean"; ka, or "flower," and getsu, or "moon." As a result, the interior is made from a blend of black wood and wood floors reminiscent of the region's architecture, with gold-colored accents to portray the moon and a quiet ambiance allowing diners to feel like they are in Japan, surrounded by the ocean.
In 2018, our menu was created to share the unique kaiseki dining style, focusing on the Hida region, particularly Hida beef. As a seasonally driven restaurant, our menu changes monthly, and sometimes, even more often, using fresh ingredients to portray some of Japan's most authentic dishes. We take guests on a sensory journey of exquisite seasonal flavors through several courses of hot and cold dishes. Since our executive chef is from the Hida region himself, we often have traditional Hida dishes finding their way onto the menu.
What are some of your signature dishes?
Basically, anything made with our famous Hida beef. This includes Hida Beef Sukiyaki, also known as our Hida-Style Hot Pot, our Hida Beef Hoba Yaki, which involves slow roasting Hida beef in a large magnolia leaf (a traditional Hida technique), and Hida Beef Nigiri Sushi, which is Hida beef served raw or aburi-style over a piece of sushi rice.
What inspired you to start using the rice factory NEW YORK's rice?
Since we typically use minimal rice in kaiseki-style dining, we wanted to ensure that the few places we use it are exceptional. The Hida Beef Nigiri Sushi is the main dish that consistently needs rice, and since it is one of our signature dishes, we consulted with the rice factory to make sure we chose the best fit for our Hida dish, and we ended up selecting a rice variety from Hokkaido.
As a funny backstory, the owner of Kaikagetsu first found out about the rice factory NEW YORK when he was riding in the back of an Uber. The driver mentioned that his friend polished rice at the rice factory NEW YORK. After noting this, the owner heard about the rice factory again, taking it as a sign to contact you.
How do the customers like the rice from the rice factory NEW YORK?
We received positive feedback from our customers about the rice the day we switched. As many of our customers are well-traveled and well-versed in Japanese cuisine, we were pleasantly surprised to receive such a positive reaction. The rice definitely elevated our dishes even more!
Do you have any news or exciting upcoming events to share with us?
September 2023 will mark our 5th anniversary. Despite more than half of that time being during COVID-19, we were able to keep our doors open, all thanks to our incredible staff, customers, landlord, building owners, and community. As the menu will continue to change monthly, we have started to offer a là carte on a limited-time basis, between 5-6 pm daily. We used to offer this in addition to our different Kaiseki courses, but we are still pacing ourselves as we come out of the pandemic. We hope to expand our menu and offerings soon!
We have also started a small Japanese pickle-to-go program, which includes a set made from two different types of daikon radish and Hida miso, a special type of miso best used as a dressing/dip for fish, meats, and vegetables. We are also creating a pairing option for the courses and plan to offer lunch options again soon. During the pandemic, we donated lots of bento and plan on continuing this act of gratitude for all the support we received from our community. For upcoming news and updates about Kaikagetsu, follow us on Instagram and check out our website!
Finally, do you have a message to share with readers?
We believe we are more than just a Japanese restaurant—we see ourselves as a bridge between cultures. With the fifth anniversary approaching and our post-COVID sea legs growing back strong, we strive to expand the menu and what Kaikagetsu can do for the community.
We hope our guests will continue to enjoy the traditional Japanese cuisine and service we offer at Kaikagetsu!