Before I became so enamored of fresh tofu that I started making my own, I thought of this benighted food as a consolation prize for vegetarians. But then I ate at New York City's En Japanese Brasserie, where the cooks make fresh tofu five times a night at regularly scheduled and advertised times—it's like Shamu the killer whale, without all the splashing.
Seated at a table near the edge of the reflecting pool in the middle of En's chic and cavernous dining room, I was presented with an elegant, black lacquered box of just-made tofu. I used a wooden ladle to carefully scoop some of the tofu into a beautiful jade-colored bowl, then poured a generous amount of wari-joyu, the restaurant's slightly sweet mix of soy sauce and fish broth, over it. I took a bite, and bean curd as I heretofore had known it ceased to exist. The combination of the delicate flanlike texture and the slightly beany, almost creamy flavor was as consoling as custard. It was like being handed a sweater in a snowstorm. Suddenly, five times a night didn't seem nearly enough.
I'm not alone in my enthusiasm. Tofu, as they say in the fashion industry, is having a moment. If sushi is now ubiquitous in America, the next distinguishing characteristic of a high-end Asian restaurant may be its fresh tofu. What's particularly surprising about the new trendiness of a food first made by the Chinese more than 2,000 years ago is the glamour quotient. The $15-a-serving tofu at New York City's Megu is made by the revered Japanese artisan Yoshimasa Kawashima, who sends shipments encased in lovely bamboo baskets twice a week. The new Beverly Hills outpost of Umenohana, a Japanese chain of tofu restaurants, serves its yuba—made from the skin of warm soy milk—in a martini glass, topped with caviar.