The Taru Trap

Yakatori Sake Menu.So scott and I went to a fun little Japanese restaurant called “Yakatori Taisho” we got there around 8pm and waited about an hour for our table which was not as bad as it sounds. we had fun people watching all the wacky japanese youth hanging around outside also waiting for tables. I stuck it out as I thought it was a good sign that young cool native japanese wanted to eat there. the joint was jumping and we got a seat at the yakatori bar right next to the grill. great for warming up. Even better for warming up is some yummy sake. So we get our seats and the waitress comes flying by wanting our drink orders. the place is jammed and the waitstaff is busy so this was no time to pussyfoot about what saké to order. I follow my gut and ordered a small bottle of “taru sake” for about $9. scott goes for the obvious choice of the giant house recommended saké, kaisho honjozo. Scott is SO much better at ordering on instinct. he always seems to zero in on what is good even when we have no idea what anything on the menu will really taste like. this happens all the time, but it’s even more disturbing when he orders better sake than me. (“hey! that’s my department!”) Well, it happened again on this night. I’d like to think I’m some big sake expert, but I’m still such a novice in knowing what to order and what to expect. good to keep my ego in check and my mind focused on learning about sake.

Taru Sake Bottle and sake cupScott ordered a glass of the house special after seeing it was the “recommended” sake on the menu. It cost about $5 for a really full 8 ounce glass. I thought, if they’re pushing it that hard, it must be old or not so good. I looked at the other selections and found this taru sake. I had heard that term “taru” before, but was kinda forgetting what it meant. My Taru arrived and had a slight yellow tinge and I poured. I sipped it out of a tiny ceramic cup. It tasted funny, but I couldn’t but my finger on it. a few more sips… still tasted funny. Scott gave me a sip of his selection. now that tasted good. Also it was a beautful crystal clear color. it looked clearer than water.

What had I done?! hmmm. so I checked out the taru bottle and realized what that funny taste was! Taru is sake aged in cedar barrels. Cedar! that’s what I was tasting. I sipped some more – yes cedar – it tasted just like a cedar closet or my grandmother’s cedar hope chest. Now, just like nigori, I’m sure there are people out there that just LOVE this cedar infused aged taste, but i’m not one of them. SO, I screwed the cap on the bottle and stuffed it in my jacket pocket. I flagged the waitress and got my own glass of what scott had. ah… that’s better. we left the restaurant feeling over-stuffed and a little tipsy. in any case, now I know what TARU means and I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Great Landmark recommendation!

I picked up this yummy Daiginjo at a Landmark sake tasting. After my Gekkeikan disaster yesterday, I was looking forward to restore my faith in saké again. I kinda had an ace in my pocket as I brought home a bottle of Kirin Koshihikari junmai Dai-ginjo on my trip to syracuse to enjoy over the holiday weekend. I knew I didn’t want to go without some truly great stuff while I was home with my family and definitely needed something to sooth some frayed nerves. I tried this sake at the landmark wine store’s tasting back on Nov. 11th. So, I’d had this before and knew it would be great. he he. I bought this Daiginjo for a 10% discount and stuck it in the back of my fridge for a rainy day. Well that day is here, but it’s a snowy day instead. Kirin Koshihikari really came through for me. the taste was crisp, not overly clean, but smooth enough to fully restore my faith in all things Dai-Ginjo.

As a social experimient, I have a tasting of the Kirin Koshihikari to my younger sister, who rarely drinks anything. My brother in law equivilant who also rarely drinks anything. And I gave a glass to my older sister who enjoys her margaritas. Youngest sister’s quote was a keeper, which I will paraphrase here… “um, this is just all the taste of everything I hate about the alcohol in wine without the wine flavor.” Her tasting Technique was unorthodox as well. she just kinda stuck her toungue in the sake without really sipping it. (don’t worry, I drank every last drop of here tasting sample.) Brother in law equivilant drank his sample like man, but I don’t think I turned him into a saké appreciator. My older sis really enjoyed her glass of Dai-ginjo but switched to wine for the rest of the evening. ok – fine. more for me!! I was a little suprised that the super smooth boombastic taste of this daigingo didn’t convert my whole family to saké worshipers. That got me thinking. what kind of personality really would enjoy what Saké has to offer. I think if you eat and enjoy fringe foods of the american diet… for example – sushi – you are a prime candidate for Saké worship.

This Sake gets a great rating for coming thru in the clutch.
I give Kirin Koshihikari 4.5 out of 5 saké bottles
[rate 4.5]

Blue bottles and sticky tables

Mineno HakubaiScott took me to a great place tonight: Poke! We ventured to this sushi place on the upper east side because there were high marks for the sushi in zagats. the other exciting thing was that that they don’t have their liquor license so they have a B.Y.O.S. policy. bring your own sake! So I did! I brought a Ginjo – mineno hakubai in a beautiful blue bottle and silver label. We were pumped!
Entering Poke, we found it to be a dirty little hole in the wall with three native Japanese sitting at the plywood sushibar. The white walls were smudged, the kitchen had plywood & screw shelving in plain view and the tables were… sticky.

I wanted to run, but we’d come a long way. so we stayed. We quickly figured out this place was not japanese run. Our waitress was a doll but we did have some communication problems. she kept asking us if we wanted “SHOE- SEE”. we finally figured it out and broke out our bottle of mineno hakubai. The sake immediately began to sooth my worries about Poke. It was a full, round flavor and just delicious. Once the sushi arrived we understood what Zagats was talking about. it was really really really good. Now the Sake really began to flow and I had a little trouble after a while pouring from that great big bottle into those tiny tiny cups they gave us. Maybe a sign I should have stopped pouring, but I forged ahead. This sake really grew on me throughout the evening. yeah! a new favorite ginjo! that’s good since it’s generally cheaper than Daigino — that’s not always true but can be. This is a sake that really lives up to it’s pretty bottle and label. it really DOES look as good as it tastes. yum.

My Sake rating for mineno hakubai:
4 out of 5 sake bottles
[rate 4.0]

Yakitori Yum Yum

Could it possibly be better your second time? In the case of Yakitori Totto it was! I went there for a late dinner with scott after a long day at school. We had to wait about 45 mins for our table when all was said and done, but the host was just so darn NICE about the wait, we ended up not minding. Just to get this out of the way… The food was delicious!

Now about the SAKÉ! The saké we had first was heaven. My new affordable Junmai Dai-Gingo number 1 pic!!! This new fav is the yummy…Kubota Hekijyu Saké from Niigata.

sake_121005_003.jpgI had seen the bottle before…i remembered later I had seen it in one of those japanese “gift giving” catalogues. I think this is a pretty popular sake and I understand why!. The taste was mellow and very smooth with a voluminous flavor. Scott and I got a Carafe – which I tried very hard to share equally… but I was slurping up quite greedily. Kubota Hekijyu is everything a daiginjo should be in my opinion.

sake_121005_006.jpgTried a second glass on the same nite – it was a dassai junmai gingo. It had a very distinct crisp taste. At first I thought it was mint, but upon closer inspection it became clear it was anaise. Very strong anaise flavor. So, if that sounds appealing to to you- dive into dassai gingo.

Size Does Matter – Part Duex

OK! so i’m warming up to Ozeki. I think warming is the oprative word here. once ozeki warms a little bit closer to room temp, the paint thinner taste is gone! well, i’ve got quite a long way to go on this 1.5 L bottle, so I may indeed post again on this saké,


Ozeki – Size does matter!


Now I’ve already broken my own rule about buying cheap sake. However, when I saw this gigantic 1.5 liter bottle of Ozeki saké on sale at Mitsuwa, I simply could not refuse. It didn’t help that the Japanese shoppers were stuffing them into their shopping carts as if there was no tomorrow. Did they know something I didn’t? Was this an amazing steal? So, i went in for size… the price? $5.99. oh, I know, i know. BUT all this sake tasting is purely in the name of Urban Saké blog research!

This stuff is made in the USA. it is the ONLY way it could be this cheap. and i guess Ozeki is the most well known kura in the states? maybe? not sure. All i know is that I can find Ozeki in every thai, chinese and other asian resturant in the city.

How does it taste? Well, I have to say, this stuff does not taste as awful as I thought it would. Don’t get me wrong, it did at first. I mean, it really needed to warm up a little. right out of the fridge, I tasted serious paint thinner overtones. Now that it’s warmed up a bit (and so have I), there is a slight rice-ball tinge with a slight aroma of bark. yeah, like on a tree. There is 16% alcohol so it has a firm bite that is a little frayed around the edges. All in all, i think this fits the bill for sipping after work and other not so special occasions where price is a concern.

My Saké rating
Ozeki-sized Ozeki earns 2 of a possible 5 Saké Bottles
[rate 2.0]

Mu does not come from cows.

I knew mu would be good! saw it on the menu at decibel under the daigingo listings. one of the 3 more affordable daigingos. – by that I mean under $15 a glass

Mu is indeed yummy, and excellent for the price.    The taste was clean, very smooth, but not too smooth — there was a slight kick at the finish. This makes me feel Mu could hold up against more flavorful junmais and Gingos.  Also, there were subtle hints of fruity flavors – like a whisp of melon or something similar. The character on the label makes me think of the brandenburg gate in Berlin. I’ve learned after my years in Germany the Germans love those abstract designs.

Just a few more things about Mu… ALC content 15%. Made with Yamada Nishiki Saké rice. Maybe someday I’ll know what that means! Oh, one more thing – This is a Junmai Daigingo… no brewers distilled alcohol has been added. All in all, Mu is wonderful – but not my top top pick. Try it, you’ll like it.

my sake Rating:
Mu Junmai Dai-Gingo earns 4 out of 5 sake bottles
[rate 4.0]

Sake tasting at landmark tonight

this was amazing. I give it a 4 out of 5 saké bottles!

[rate 4.0]

Mystery Sake at Congee village…

One of my dearest friends Alysia was given a suprise Birthday Party at Congee Village. It was a chinese banquet kinda thing and it was a lot of fun to sit around those big tables with the huge lazy susan. The waitstaff was very nice too, and they really take care of you. I asked for a saké and they only had one kind. I never really caught the name of it, so this will remain a mystery until my next trip to congee, but it was strong – I’m guessing a junmai and a little coarse, but quite serviceable!

Finding an old friend on the sake menu.

A former co-worker of mine had lived in Japan for a year so I called him up and asked him to dinner to pick his brain on living in japan and learning Japanese – all things that have crossed my mind as I learn more about sake. I found a place in his neighborhood called “Yakatori Totto” and we decided to meet there. I gave my friend my whole spiel about my interest in saké and yadda yadda and before you know it, we were seated and I was being asked to pick the saké.

Ok I was starting to sweat. I’m going around telling people yeah, i’m Mr. sake now and wham, I gotta pick something good…. and this guy had LIVED in japan for 2 years – so he knows what good saké is and he will know right away if what I pick totally blows! My eyes were scanning the sake menu… then I saw it! (insert angel choir music here) Amen, Wakatake Daigingo! It was one of my favorites from my trip to decibel and I knew it was a winner. So we got a carafe. My friend said he only wanted one little glass, but needless to say, it was so yummy for both of us, that we ended up splitting it. I must confess, I felt a little proud that after a few months of Sake-stuff, my first attempt at being a saké sommelier, went pretty well! watch your back andrea immer!