SEASON-INGS: Hanamizuki Cafe

Founded only two years ago, Hanamizuki Café is a staple of the culinary New York landscape. It is a restaurant for all seasons. The simple yet indulgent menu keeps its patrons returning through wind, snow and rain.

As owner Jumi Fujiwara explains, Hanamizuki Café was born from a common problem – how does one provide tasty, fresh, and healthy meals at an affordable price? As one trained in beauty, aesthetics, and health – Jumi wanted to create meals that would delight the palette without guilt. The answer came in the form of riceballs (onigiri), which she used to make for the staff at her beauty salon.
You will find none of the unadventurous tuna-mayos and umeboshi riceballs so common elsewhere. Hanamizuki’s flavors range from homey spam musubi to satisfying sukiyaki.Even their plum and seaweed riceballs have a twist. It is the attention to detail, health, high-quality and unique ingredients that makes Hanamizuki blossom.

The plum riceballs are an excellent example. They use two types of umeboshi, pitted and unpitted. Rather than buying only pitted varieties, Hanamizuki prizes the taste and acidity that only unpitted umeboshi can bring. Add to this dill and nozawana-pickles (a type of leafy Japanese style pickle) to further the dichotomies in flavor. It’s not surprising that their dashi is top-notch, too (Kanoyama Dashi). These delights were crafted by none other than Chef Kiyo Shinoki, formerly of Bohemian, who designed a playful balance of savory and sweet, mild and bold.

It being the end of January when I spoke to Jumi, perhaps the coldest time of the year, she shared with me her favorite ingredients of the season. During winter she finds herself drawn to the bright, sunny, zesty favor of yuzu. Yuzu, sometimes called citron, is historically associated with this season. The taste has been described as “tart, but not bitter” with an incredible ability to refresh the palette. Jumi includes yuzu zest in rice, and regularly uses yuzu vinegar and yuzu shio-kosho. For her, the pungent flavor drives the wintertime chill away.

Another seasonal favorite is azuki. Truth be told, Jumi loves azuki all year round. Not only are azuki (red beans) healthy, their sweetness is irresistible. “If I had to choose, I’d choose azuki over chocolate,” the restaurant owner boldly proclaims. At the café you can find an unusual combination of azuki and coffee in their special pudding. It uses Columbian coffee jelly, milk jelly, azuki and a drop of Grand Marnier. “It’s a dessert you don’t feel bad about eating.” However, she cautions, it tends to sell rather quickly.

Whether its coffee jelly or tasty riceballs, Hanamizuki has something for everyone. And they are continuing to grow – with evening service and two new riceball flavors just added to the menu (curry and egg/cha-shu pork). As we greet February with its ice and snow, we know that spring with its gusts and gales and warming days lies just around the corner. In the meantime, let’s take solace in the joys that only cozy nights and comforting meals can bring.  

Alexis SanbornComment