This week, we’ve decided to stray far from the all-American cookies, cakes, and ice cream we so love and venture instead to Minamoto Kitchoan, one of the city’s foremost purveyors of wagashi, or traditional Japanese pastry.
The shop, tucked seamlessly into a corner of Rockefeller Center, looks more like a jewelry store than a confectionery: Its wares are laid out like brooches, and are just as alluring. Interspersed among them are plastic models that show you what the insides of the pastries look like, which is useful if slightly reminiscent of the models used in high school anatomy class.
We wanted to try one of everything, but settled instead for a trio of mochi, or filled rice cakes made from glutinous rice paste, and one tenkataihei, a fish-shaped cake filled with red bean paste, because who doesn’t to eat a cake that looks like a fish?
The mochi, as pictured above, were, clockwise from the top, mame daifuku, sakura daifuku, and sakura mochi. The texture of the first two was a compelling oddity: soft and smooth as a baby’s thigh, they bore a tactile resemblance to silicone breast implants, but in a good way.
We were most partial to the sakura daifuku ($3), white bean paste wrapped in mochi made with minced cherry leaves and blossoms. The flavor was delicate but distinct, and tasted unmistakably of the fruit. Next in our order of preference was the mame daifuku ($2.80), or red bean paste mochi — we loved the contrast between the beans and the soft mochi. We more admired than enjoyed the sakura mochi ($3) — filled with red beans and garnished with a salted cherry blossom and leaf; it was pretty to look at but too sticky and stretchy for our taste.
The tenkataihei ($3), meanwhile, was another favorite — the cake tasted like pound cake, and the red bean filling had a sweet, mellow earthiness.
While Minamoto’s wagashi are small, they’re sweet enough to discourage excessive consumption. If you’re used to robustly flavored, fatty American desserts, then wagashi may seem a bit alien by comparison, but where marrying beauty with subtlety is concerned, they’re hard to beat.
608 Fifth Avenue #1
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 15, 2011