822 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10021
Daily Hours: Lunch: 12:00-3:00 pm
Afternoon Tea: 12:00-4:00 pm
Dinner: 5:30-9:30 pm
Kai sits atop the stylish Ito En retail store, Japan’s largest tea purveyor, on Madison Avenue. In addition to afternoon tea service, the restaurant offers lunch and dinner, including kaiseki, a traditional Japanese meal comprised of as many as fifty small courses. They come out one after the other in an elaborate parade of treats, each as tasty as the next. Think of it as something like Japanese tapas.
Kaiseki was born in the teahouses of Kyoto, where Buddhist monks were said to have served food with tea to enhance the flavor of the beverage. Kai adds a French twist to this most traditional of pairings, reflecting the world’s recent fascination with fusion cuisine.
Fresh, seasonal ingredients are the hallmark of traditional kaiseki - and of Chef Hitoshi Kagawa’s cuisine. The fish is as fresh as could be, and the tea is in an entirely different league from its distant cousin, the stale teabag. Attention to detail is the other standout feature of Kai, from the décor down to the serving dishes. Each course is placed just so on one of Kai’s selection of elegant, handmade ceramic plates.
The food at Kai conveys a feeling of balance, the kind achieved by a few choice ingredients, a skilled hand, and an eye for design. The ambience mirrors the cuisine in its elegance and chic minimalism. The eight-course meal begins with a cup of White Peony tea, thoughtfully served at the start of the meal so that its delicate flavor can be appreciated without the distraction of other flavors.
The quality of the food is consistently high for
the remaining courses. An abundance of fresh seafood is served next, followed
by two traditional soups (kenchin and ochazuke), toro that is fit for
the gods, and grilled black cod. The dining experience comes to a close
with a creamy white sesame mousse. Smooth as could be and not overly sweet,
it is a fitting end to an elegant, well-executed meal.