Magazine article The New Yorker

Kai

Magazine article The New Yorker

Kai

Article excerpt

822 Madison Ave., at 68th St. (212-988-7277)--At the kaiseki restaurant upstairs from Ito En, a Japanese tea shop on an otherwise un-Zen stretch of Madison Avenue, the chopstick rests are dewy blobs of molten glass, each table has a small square dish of chartreuse and orange mini-mums, and the placemats are slabs of slate--an allusion, perhaps to the hot stones (seki) that Buddhist priests would sometimes place in their pockets (kai) for comfort during fasts.

The first cup of tea (jasmine, perfumed but still savory) comes on a coaster made from a dried tea leaf. The food, as they say, is poetry. Tasting menus of five, eight, or ten small courses are named like collections of tanka: "White Peony," "Silver Needle," "Iron Goddess." And with Ito En sponsoring a haiku contest (winning entries are printed on the labels of its bottled green tea), diners may be inspired to compose:

Cherry tomatoin a gelatinous cube--intimidating. …

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