Walking to the subway stop this morning, I found myself quietly humming the Vapor's "Turning Japanese" lyrics. And why not? One of the things I love about New York is how multiple cultural realities co-exist and thrive together in the same city. This week I've sampled a slice of Tokyo:
On Thursday night, the firm had an event at the International Center for Photography, where the featured exhibit was "Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan" (through September 7th). In particular, I was struck by the black and white photographs of Miwa Yanagi's "Fairy Tale" collection. Yanagi stages violent, dystopian scenes from Western fairy tales (e.g. Cinderella having her toe chopped off by her stepsisters in front of a fireplace and Little Red and her Grandmother being unzipped from a wolf's belly). It was a reminder that the original Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (pre-Disneyfication) were, literally, grim indeed.
And on Wednesday night, Scuba took me to Kyotofu (705 9th Ave. between W.48th and 49th), which is tied with P*Ong as my favorite Asian dessert bar in New York City. The back room of Kyotofu, padded in contemporary white leather with futuristic lighting, seemed to be a hermetically sealed deep space lounge from the year 2046. Scuba, who has one of the largest music libraries of anyone I know, knowledgeably pointed out that the restaurant was playing Pizzicato Five, a jazz-funk-electronica-J-pop group once described by Spin magazine as how you would imagine Hello Kitty would sound.
We split the Black Sesame Sweet Tofu, served with hoji-cha roasted green tea syrup, white sesame tuile and goji berry. Kyotofu's executive chef, Ritsuko Yamaguchi, was a former pastry chef at Daniel (which seems to be a chef-incubating machine for new restaurants all around the city); in fact, a New York Times food critic aptly pointed out that the tuiles with which she decorates her desserts are identical to the ones at Daniel. The silky texture of the tofu was softer than custard but more supple than pudding. The dessert was not oversweet, with just a hint of black sesame.
I was so inspired by our deep space odyssey at Kyotofu that I stopped by the Japanese grocery store Yagura (24 E 41st St. between Madison and 5th) the next day to pick up some black sesame powder to make this recipe:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 package unflavored gelatin (1/4 oz.)
- 2 tbsp. water
- 2 tbsp. black sesame powder
- Simmer and stir, but do not boil, the heavy cream, sugar, and water together for 3 min. in a pot.
- Stir in the gelatin and simmer for 5 min. until completely dissolved.
- Stir in the black sesame powder.
- Pour into 4 glass ramekins.
- Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours until liquid solidifies or overnight.
- Garnish as desired with flowers or berries (optional).
The dessert may be served in the ramekin, like a pudding, or it can be flipped out of the ramekin and served like flan (to do so, run the bottom of the ramekins under hot water and use a knife along the edge to unstick the panna cotta from the glass).
Other Japanese grocery stores in Manhattan where you might find the pre-ground powder include the chains JAS Mart and Sunrise Mart or the oldest Japanese food store in NYC, Katagiri (224 E. 59th St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.). Or, if you have time to spare, you can also make your own black sesame powder by roasting and grinding your own sesame seeds.
Servings: 4, Prep time: 9 min. (freeze time 4 hrs.), Calories per Serving: 418, Pair with: Sake (recommended: a light, fruity sake)
Copyright Sweet & Victuals 2008. This article and photograph is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.