Beware the Velvet Hammer

Menu CoverI realized the other day, I love my new hobby as a sake appreciator, but you know what my hobby really is?…. DRINKING! Obviously, I was never a frat boy and don’t really have a past history of drinking games and waking up outside on the lawn wearing someone else’s pants. I’ve never done a bodyshot or consumed beer thru a funnel, so it’s safe to say I normally don’t get too wasted while enjoying my new hobby. um, but last night was the exception. It was the first Sake Pairing dinner I had every been to, so, in my defense, I wasn’t really sure how things were going to work and before I figured it out, it was just too late. I brought along my dear friend David who is a food adventurer in his own right, so I was at least in great company as I slid into my first evening of all-out sake abuse.

Upon arriving at Matsuri, we were ushered into a side room that looked like it might seat about 50 or 60 people. There were communal tables so we had to sit with people we didn’t know which was unusal, but I tried to make the best of it. There were four glasses set in front of us on this kind of sake placemat. The pairing dinner was 5 courses and 4 sakes… no sake with dessert which is a big oversight in my book. Anyway, we were served our first sake which was the Tedorigawa “Iki na Onna”[LADY LUCK] Daiginjo. they had all the folks from the actual brewery on hand wearing these orange kata robes and a few ladies in colorful kimono. Mr. Toshio Yoshida was a handsome older gentleman with an eye for the ladies who was the senior representative from the Tedorigawa brewery sponsoring the pairing dinner. You can see an overview of the brewing process at Tedorigawa here He said a few words in japanese about each sake we were tasting and about the region of japan where the sake was produced. His comments were translated by another gentleman who I think also worked for the brewery. The first glass was poured and I took a sip. tasted familiar, but i wasn’t sure. I was sure it tasted good. I paced myself because I wanted to make sure I didn’t drink my entire glass befor the first course came out. Mr. Yoshida explained this sake was requested by the lady sake brewers of Japan He said that Iki means kinda like a chic, classy lady. I quickly finished my glass and, honestly, I was feeling kinda bummed that we had such a small tasting. before I really completed my thought, one of the nice ladies in kimono came around with a bottle and filled my glass of Iki na Onna back up to the brim. oh! a refill! well,. then I enjoyed Iki na Onna with larger swigs. the first course was Kobe Beef Tataki, Seared Tuna and Roasted duck which tasted yummy but was literally the size of 3 postage stamps. My glass got refilled again! It was slowly starting to dawn on me that they were giving our unlimited refills… I knew I had 3 other sakes ahead of me, but I pressed on – and they kept refilling!

Sake DescriptionsThe next sake was Tedirugawa “Arabashiri”[RIPPLING STREAM] Ginjo (Nama) and it was paired with a small skewer of yakitori, a few crabmeat Shumai and a poached sardine. Mr. Yoshida called this sake strong and flavorful. At this point Mr Yoshida was walking around with an assistant and stopping at each table for a picture and some flirting with all the women. I’m assuming Mrs. Yoshida was not along for this trip. My theory of endless refills was proving to be correct as the Arabashiri was refilled as fast as the Iki na onna. Everyone at the table remarked at the strong contrast between the two.

A Tiny piece of black cod was the next course and it was paired with Tedorigawa “Yamahai Junmai” [SILVER MOUNTAIN]. This Junmai was strong and a little on the sweet side. Could be my imagination but this one seemed to pack more of a punch – I bet the ALC content is higher on this one. Food-wise, this was the most forgettable course. the cod was tiny. It wasn’t bad, to be sure, but the food was not keeping pace with my sake consumption. I quickly put these thoughts out of my mind and focused on the task at hand.

the final sake was Tedorigawa “Yamahai Daiginjo” [CHRYSANTHEMUM MEADOW] and was paired with Sushi. I’d like to tell you what this sake tasted like or even what Mr. Yoshida said about this one, but i’d crossed the line. The bottomless sake up caught up with me. I was pretty far gone at this point. in fact, I remember everyone at the tasting was in a pretty good mood at this point.

After a yummy desert of Yuzy Crem-brulee the Matsuri chef Ono came out for a bow and dinner was over once the checks were paid. I made my way home – I was way beyond the sake zone at this point- but feeling giddy and indulgent and really tipsy. The sake’s were delicious and the tiny portions of food were delicious. the evening was delicious

Map of Japan showing TedorigawaThe next morning… ah, yes. what was the price to pay for all this merriment? I woke up a little thirsty, but no hangover. I swear, No hangover! I had a little water and I was good to go. I had escaped a direct hit from the velvet hammer. I think it was due to the higher grade of sake I was drinking. Sake really is a wonder! Now, I know that I would have enjoyed the pairing dinner even more if I had slowed down and valued the real taste of each sake instead of marveling at the sheer quantity, but that is a lesson I will put into practice at my next sake pairing. for now, all I can say is I love my new hobby!

Beam me up, Sake!

I've hit the motherloadIf there is a Mothership for sake lovers in the New York City area, it has to be Mitsuwa supermarket in Edgewater NJ. I discovered Mitsuwa by chance as my Feng Shui school happened to be in Edgewater, too. The first time I saw the sake aisle, phasers were set to stunned! It must be the biggest and broadest selection in the City. That Aisle could be my entire sake

The Aisle of dreamscellar! They also have a great selection of chilled 300ML bottles which are excellent for sampling the more expensive sakes before you commit to a $50 bottle.

Someday I will have worked my way thru tasting all these sakes but until then I can only stare, wishing I had a million dollars to buy them all.

KewpieMitsuwa is more than just Sake. It’s fun to just walk around and explore. Kinda like a really cheap trip to Japan! There is a food court, a crazy selection of Japanese candy… actually a crazy selection of Japanese EVERYTHING.

Too many wonderful-crazy Japanese objects to list, but my hands down favorite discovery on this trip was Kewpie Mayonnaise. this was the weirdest – looked like a regular bottle, but when you touched it, it felt squishy like a breast implant! get your hands on a bottle if you don’t believe me!

If Edgewater sounds like a galaxy far, far away, it kinda is to us city folk. Luckily, but just like Ikea, Mitsuwa has a bus ($2 each way) that will take you right to Mitsuwa from Port Authority. can’t argue with that. If someone else does the driving that frees you up to really enjoy some sake over a yummy, adventurous lunch.

Engage!So, I say, transport over to Port authority, gate 51. Tell the driver to lay in a course for the the Mitsuwa-mothership at warp 8. sit back and relax, you’ll be home soon. Engage!

Bozu is da’ (sushi) bomb

Bozu DarumaOK sake fans, run, Run RUN, to Bozu!! This place is da’ bomb. the sushi bomb that is… On Jan 22, I graduated from Feng Shui school and wanted to meet up with some friends the night before the ceremony at a sake-friendly bar to celebrate. I heard about Bozu from Scott and checked it out online – a good website goes a long long way for me. So, I just sent out an email and asked my friends to meet me there at the bar. Turned out to be a wonderful night!
We were the first people to get to get there right when they opened.

Bozu BartenderThe atmosphere inside is dark and filled with black stained wood. kinda gives you the feeling of what an underground sake brewery might be like in Japan. When we sat down at the bar, I was overwhelmed with the sake menu. There was an entire board of sakes by the glass (tasting glass, and masu size), carafe and bottle. They also offered 3 tasting options. I picked the tasting that had the most Daiginjo on it and crossed my fingers. what I ended up having was really yummy but little did I know that I would be drinking those sake’s again just a few days later. The initial tasting I had consisted of 3 sakes by the same manufacturer

1)Tedorigawa yamahai Daiginjo chrysanthemum meadow
2)Tedorigawa Iki na onna lady luck
3)Tedorigawa yamahai junmai silver mountain

Tedorigawa SamplerAll in all, these were very solid sakes, tasting serious, well-produced, smooth and elegant. my tasting glasses were emptied quickly. Since I was in a very festive mood, I began ordering masu (about 3 total) of my old standby the Wakatake Daiginjo – demon slayer. The masu were served in a unique way at Bozu. They used clear acrylic masu boxes set in a shallow blow and overflowed the masu into the bowl. Usually I’ve seen either a round glass overflowed into a wooden/lacquer masu (such as at Decibel) or a round glass overflowed into a shallow bowl (like at yakatori totto). I really enjoy drinking out of the masu, so the sake presentation won high marks.

I also have to mention our bartender. Didn’t catch his name, but you could just tell he was a pro. He knew a lot about his sakes and poured them in front of you, and he was super friendly to boot. Most amazing of all, he was able to pour from a huge 1.5L sake bottle into a 2 oz tasting cup and fill the sake just to the rim and not spill a drop. Quite an expert move. If you’ve ever tried to fill a tiny sake cup from a huge bottle, you’ll know what i’m talking about.

Bozu MasuAs for food, I ordered off the bar menu and had to try their “sushi bombs”. This dangerous sounding meal was actually just a usually square piece of Sushi turned into a rounded shape. I guess “sushi bomb” had more marketing appeal then something like sushi tennis ball. whatever they’re called they tasted good and paired well with the Tedorigawa sake!

The Wakatake I used to round out my evening at Bozu was just the right note of comfort and elegance. When we left Bozu, I was in the “Sake Zone”. You know, that comfortable feeling of being happy, well taken care of, content… all facilitated by liberal sake consumption and the company of good friends. I want to thank all my friends who trucked all the way out to williamsburg brooklyn to help me celebrate. it meant so much to me. thank you guys. I know I’ll be back to bozu for sure to venture elsewhere on the sake menu and see if I can re-create the magic and find my way once again to my happy place, the Sake Zone.

Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. I went with my friend Michael to a cool east village noodle bar called Momofuku and found myself with carte blanc to pick the sake we were to enjoy that evening. Talk about pressure… not only did I need to ensure my own enjoyment of the sake for the evening, but now I was responsible for others. Building that confidence is what would make a great Sake Sommelier, I’m sure. well, I’m not there yet. To my credit, I must say I had already tasted some of the items on the menu, so the decision was made for the most part to try something new. By process of elimination , I ended up going with the Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo. it happened to be the most expensive bottle on the Momofuku menu, and a daiginjo. To be on the safe side, we asked the waitress for her 2 cents after she offered to help us and she said it was her favorite on the menu. was good enough for me – done deal.

My hopes were high for an earth-shattering, spiritually-connected, soul-searing DaiGinjo experience. However, when the Sake hit the palate. Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo just didn’t deliver as hoped.

For me, I would say the nose was strongly perfumed… to my nose like honeysuckle. Overall, this sake left me with the feeling it was channeling Blanche Dubois… a little bit of deranged aging southern belle… quite sweet and with sugary, almost sickly, aromatic honeysuckle notes along with with a quick, wispy finish that was barely there. here is what someone online had to say about this sake

Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo

rich tropical fruit aromas blended with a roasted rice flavor and an earthy finish

The food at Momofuku actually did a lot to prop up this sake.
I ordered the yummy chicken noodle soup with a hearty broth, a bombastic tangle of homemade noodles, chicken chunks and meaty shitaki mushrooms. The sweetness of the sake actually worked well to cut the fatty flavor of the noodles and soup.

The 500ml bottle we were served is quickly becoming my least favorite size. too much for one person, not quite enough to share between two sake hounds. Another lesson i’ve learned tonight – always ask what size you’re getting when ordering a bottle.

When all is said and done, this gentleman caller is going to take a pass the next time Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo is on my dance card.

I give this sake 3 out of 5 sake bottles
[rate 3.0]

Mystery Sake Revealed..

The Hakkai San Sign - Hand Crafted - the sign at leastI got my chance to return to the city’s number 1 japanese restaurant, Tomoe, and finally – once and for all- find out the name of that proto-sake I tasted there. That was the first premium I have ever had. It was delicious enough, especially with tomoe sushi, to get me really interested in premium rice wine in the first place. On my Last trip to Tomoe Scott and I enjoyed it a lot but we promptly forgot the name and went on about our lives. flash forward 8 months and now Sake has a major interest of mine as I fumble along and try to learn more. needless to say, I was curious. what was that sake that started the entire Urban Sake Blog Empire you see before you now?

Dollar for dollar, Tomoe is by far and away the best sushi in NYC. they have line forming outside a half an hour before they open to prove it. It was raining, so scott and I got in on the first seating. As we sat down, my eyes scanned the walls to find that sign that I remembered. by the taste that lingered in my memory, I was sure that I was looking for a Daiginjo. um, no Daiginjo to be seen… then I saw the “smooth type” sign I remembered… then it slowly dawned on me… my first love had been a Ginjo!? wait wait wait… I remember it tasting sooo good, I was sure it was a Daiginjo polished to 30%, hand crafted by monks in tiny batches at the base of Mt. Fuji. well, that’s what it tasted like to me at the time anyway!

Hakkai San Served at Tomoe.  Wine carafe and CHILLED glassesThen I remembered… the name! the name! what is the name!?! I saw it… Hakkai San! Ginjo. yes, now I remember. Well, we promptly ordered a carafe and enjoyed it immensely! Hakkai San was still really good… I had the pleasure of being at the first birthday party for the daughter of friends this past summer. at the party, the parents gave the birthday girl her first piece of chocolate ever in the form of devil’s food chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. She stuck her hands in the cake and put some in her mouth, a little unsure. she waited and looked to daddy. she tasted it… you could sense her brain working out the flavor and smell and sweetness…She may not have know what to do with such flavor at first, but soon she smiled and seriously dug into the cake for some more. I had never seen a person eat their very first piece of chocolate and having a sweet tooth myself, I studied the moment with utter fascination. What I saw in that little girl’s eyes the same thing I felt about Hakkai San when I first tried it…”I don’t know what this is, but it tastes good! I WILL want more.”

regardless of what it really tasted like, I guess you never forget your first piece of chocolate cake.

For getting me happily wrapped up in all this, Hakkai San gets my highest rating!
5 out of 5 Saké bottles!
[rate 5.0]

Show me the Momoya!

Momoya Chop Stick SleeveWe have all been there…Whether it’s being passed over for that promotion, getting splashed by a cab on a rainy day or finding that one-of-a-kind prized collectible you got on Ebay was smashed to bits by the post office, life can suck sometimes. Lucky for me, i’ve found that a few sips of sake is quite a magic tonic that can pull me back from the brink of dispair on those poopy days and, of course it reminds me that there are are things of beauty, complexity and refinement left to explore in the world. Well, 17% ALC content doesn’t hurt either.

Recently, I had to put my magic tonic to work to *eventually* help save a date night with my boyfriend that was quickly degrading into a disappointing evening for the both of us. It all started when we tried a new restaurant that was the worst ever. I mean ever… that’s saying a lot! Ok, It’s Tono Sushi on 7th ave and 20th. STAY AWAY! it’s bad. (Ok,OK! of course it was my suggestion to go there to try someplace “new”! geesh). After such a yucky dinner, scott and I both agreed that some sake would hit the spot and save the evening from total gastonomic ruin. we ran across the street the the wonderful Momoya japanese restaurant. One look inside and it was clear that we would be out of luck. The line waiting for tables was out the door and every table was taken. damn! well, ever the optimists, we set out across chesea looking for a cozy yummy place to have some sake and save the evening…
Veloce wine bar across from Momoya and next to yucky tono sushi has 3 kinds of sake on the menu (who knew?!) but the jam packed scene inside was not inspiring the ‘cozy yummy’ feel we were after. Neither did the tres tragique 20 year old chick outside taking a cigarette break from her merlot wearing a trucker hat that had the word “whatever” printed on it in a colorful faux-urban-graffiti style font. whatever indeed! onward.

our sake wanderings brought us to some other japanese place on 23rd and 8th…. but that place had a problem, too. The bar had these interesting hanging sake bottle lamps but the bottoms of the bottle were cut jagged to let the light flow down and seemed quite disquieting overhead. not my idea of cozy yummy, ( however, I do love the sake bottle lamp idea, minus the jagged edge) onward!

Cream Puff  says Next door on 23rd is the choux factory cream puff shop. by this point, I was quite tempted to discard my quest for sake and bury my sorrows in a gigantic japanese cream puff. ummm. creampuff… but… no… must escape…

Scott and I managed to break away from the gavatational pull of Choux factory
and were quite ready to give up and admit defeat. on the way home we walked one block out of our way to swing by Momoya once more. Lo and behold there was no line and OMG, there were tables free. as it turns out, we ended up walking around so much that it was now almost 10pm. magic!

So told the hostess we wanted to just order sake and the waitress was kind enough to give us a cozy table with a view. things were starting to look up! ok, so Scott and I had been here before and we’ve tried all the sakes they have by the glass. Scott ordered the $10 sake sampler and I got a small carafe of Wakatake Daigngo.

Momoya Sake SamplerFirst to Scott’s Sampler. This is an attractive selection of three unique sakes running from a Junmai to a nigori Ginjo.
First up is the junmai “Hoyo Manamusume” Momoya describes this as:

a welcome departure from harsh “dry” jumai sakes. Mild, soft and gently evocative. crafted from rare Manamusume rice grown only in miyagi prefecture.

This description fits the sake quite well. Scott and I both enjoyed it.

Next in the sampler is a Ginjo “Dewazakura Izumi Judan”. This is described as

a Martini-lover’s sake: dry clear and high octane with a hint of juniper reminiscent of tanquery. no other ginjo combines dryness and edginess to such exhilarating effect.

Yum, I enjoyed this ginjo quite a bit. Needless to say i’m a huge tanquery fan, so any sake with a hint of Gin is for me. This was my favorite of the 3.

Last is the unusual choice of a Nigori Ginjo.”Kamoizumi Nigori Ginjo”.

This premium unfiltered sake is rich creamy and brimming with exuberant flavor. Mildly sweet, yet surprisingly robust, it is an excellent introduction to the world of sake enjoyment

ok, unfiltered Nigori is not my favorite, but Scott is crazy for it and he loved the kamoisumi. for my taste, this nigori tasted a little ferment-y. but I enjoyed it more than my first time drinking it.

Wakatake Daiginjo - Small Carafe at Momoya. yumWhile scott was trying to enjoy his sampler as I was stealing sips from everything, I was enjoying my small carafe of Wakatake DaiGinjo. perfect! the presentation, color, aroma and taste are all wonderful. I was happy to sit back and relax and enjoy every sip of this redemptive carafe, like meeting up with an old friend. And before we knew it, the sake had worked it’s magic just as we’d hoped… our evening had gone from drab to fab and we polished it off with a little green tea mochi for good measure. nice way to end what became the cozy yummy perfect date night.

brewin’ sake in the kitchen

Today I went to my first Sake Meetup meeting. is a website that helps people with common interests find each other. Lo and behold there is a sake appreciator’s group. It was a fun afternoon and everyone at the meeting was really great. Everyone was so friendly and willing to share their knowledge about sake. loved it.

The purpose of the meeting this time around was that Jeff, the group’s “toji” was going to be making some homemade Sake in his kitchen. We got to watch and sit back and relax as we enjoyed some great sakes.
I will definitely attend other Sake Meetup events. It was clear to see that Sake is best enjoyed with others over great conversation.

Sake Brewing Process – this was really cool.

The Rice was first Soaked and then steamed.

Koji or special mold needed to make sake is waiting in the blender to be ground up.

Ground up Koji is added to water in a bucket.

Steamed rice is added to the Water/Koji mixture.

Some Liquid yeast is added to the mixture.

Last but not least, the sake bucket is sealed with this special water filled gasket that lets gases out, but does not let air in. genius! I think we’ll have sake in a month?! right on.

Sake tasted at brewing meetup event

My last post was about the Brewing process we got to see at the sake meetup. Here is an overview of the Sakes we got to taste. yum. it was a really good selection and I left feeling very… happy! Thanks to Jeff, Paul, Sebastian and everyone for a great event.

Sakes we tasted from the left… Taihei-zan Kimoto Junmai, Sirakawago Sasanigori, Sawanotsuru Zuicho Dai Ginjo (1.8 L), Itami onigoroshi junmai (1.8 L)

Here is a snapshot of our 5th sake we tasted a Niwa No Uguishi Junmai – Daruma label. Here is a review of this sake I found in the Japan Times Online Authored by the revered John Gauntner

Niwa no Uguisu (The Nightingale of the Garden) is brewed at a tiny firm known for putting great care into their brewing. This “Daruma” sake, of which there is also a daiginjo version, bears the image of the founder of Zen. Daruma is dry and narrow in flavor, clean but with a soft pull to the recesses. There is a slight essence of dried autumnal fruit to the fragrance and flavor, backed and delivered by a nice standing acidity. Although it may be hard to find at just any old liquor shop, Niwa no Uguisu Daruma is comparatively easy to find at good sake pubs.

A close up of Taihei-zan Kimoto Junmai. This one was my favorite!

Forget Mecca, I pray facing SAKAGURA

Ken DaiGinjoI have heard about the saké bar Sakagura from every article and book on where to find sake in New York, so I knew it was a destination. I wanted to save my first trip there for a special occasion, so Scott had the great idea to go there on New Year’s eve for dinner and drinks. Scott gets brownie points for that idea because it was really the perfect way to wind up 2005, the year in which I started drinking sake in earnest. I had a feeling it was going to be great – and quite frankly it really surpassed all expectations. For me, being not too much of a foodie, I can honestly say it was the best restaurant experience i’ve had in NYC. I say for me, because everything about the tastes, service and atmosphere were just what I happen to like.

…and the sake? by far and away the best, most complex and most wonderful I’ve every tasted! I sat down at the sake bar and marveled at the sake menu itself which was the broadest i’ve seen. it was arranged by sake type with Daiginjo leading the pack. I didn’t really bother reading the ginjo or junmai sections too much as I know I wanted a Daigingo (or two…). I was thinking back to my taru experience at yakatori taisho and knew right away I wasn’t going to “just pick one” to try. they were too expensive and it felt like my whole night was riding on having a really, really, really great new sake. So, I asked our sake bar server for a recommendation. I told her I wanted a ‘very dry daiginjo’. she poured me a tiny sip of two different sakes to try. I picked the better of the two which was Ken DaiGinjo from Fukushima ($19 for about 5 ounces). This sake was good. The bartender chose to server the first daiginjo in a regular wineglass, which I have never seen before at a sake bar, but I just rolled with it. The wine glass made the sake easy to enjoy. I could stick my nose in the glass easily to smell and using the stem helped keep the sake chilled. The server also left the bottle next to the glass each time she poured which I thought was wonderful. this gave me a chance to really check out the bottle and read the label. Ken was smooth indeed, and dry. It had a complex flavor on the tongue and a bright crisp nose. The only thing that wasn’t perfect was that I felt it lacked a strong “finish”. For me, the taste was over too quickly. However, I enjoyed every single drop. SO good. The food started to arrive promptly and it was amazing as well, but I’ll leave that review to the food critic.

It was interesting to see how the sake was stored at sakagura. behind the bar there was a long row of top loading refridgerators. They kinda reminded me of the freezers they use in ice cream trucks where you open the metal door at the top and reach in from above. each refridgerator unit had a map inside the lid to guide the server to the location of the correct bottle without having to pull each and everyone out. very organized. there was also a sake room – kinda like a wine cellar – in clear view of the main dining room lined. The Sake room was easy to see as it had a glass door and was lined top to bottom with sake bottles on display. Maybe I’ll have one of those in my house someday?

Masuizumi DaiginjoWhen I had finished with Ken, I looked to our server again for recommendations. She presented again a sip apiece from two options and I hit the motherload… I selected the enchanting Masuizumi junmai daiginjo ($20 for a 5 ounce glass – $130 a bottle). This sake was sublime. I don’t really have the vocabulary or experience yet to do it justice. a mega ultra super premium? All I know is that I was transported. Also, it showed me quite clearly how perfect sake and good food can interact to create some magic. Masuizumi was served in a cute tumbler type wineglass – not sure if there was any reason for this, but it was a beautiful. I was sad to see the final sip in the bottom of my glass, but I made a resolution to enjoy it fully. I quickly made another 2006 new year’s eve resolution — to return to Sakagura as often as possible. Hey isn’t my birthday is coming up… ?

For earning it’s $130 a bottle price tag, Masuizumi gets a perfect 5 out of 5 sake bottle rating.
[rate 5.0]