L at First Ave.
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Chef Toshio Tomita spent nearly two decades with the Nobu empire before branching out on his own in summer 2013, but you won’t find miso-glazed black cod or a scene-y vibe at this unassuming spot situated a few steps below street level. You’re coming to Cagen instead for a serious, nearly meditative experience with traditional kappo ryori–style dining, which means the best seats in the house are at the blond-wood chef’s counter, where you can get a front-row look at chef Tomita presiding over every course. The selection is tasting-menu-only; choose from three options that will give you anywhere from four to ten courses of raw, fried, and gently cooked fish flown in from Japan each day, plus housemade soba noodles served three ways. Flash-fried soft-shell crab atop a delicate tangle of yuzu-pickled red onions was a recent standout— the meltingly tender texture makes for a nice contrast to the firmer grilled sea bream that came next. Chef Tomita also plays with Western preparations for the amuse and dessert courses; seasonal gazpacho came as a starter dotted with caviar and smoky okra, and delicate verbena-poached peaches with white cheese ice cream provide just the right amount of sweetness at dinner’s end. There’s an abridged wine list and plans to offer wine pairings, but don’t miss the bracing nama genshu sake frozen into slushy form; it sounds a bit gimmicky, but it’s actually quite refined and memorable, much like a meal here.Recommended Dishes
Chef’s tasting, $80