You Want Fries with That?

Place setting at Landmark - Ready for takeoffLandmark Wine and Sake send around an email advertising a sake seminar for Sat April 29nd. Count me in! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was really great. The seminar was held in the sun drenched upstairs space above the landmark wine shop. When I arrived I found several tables were set up around a large white room with skylights and hard wood floors. Attached to the larger space was a kitchen where the presenters were quite busy prepping for their presentations. I took a quick peek inside and saw some familiar faces! It was most of the Brewery Reps from the great evening at Sake Hanna we had last Wednesday.

I was happy, because I knew that in this more intimate setting I could taste the sakes again for a fresh perspective. The sakes were also being specifically paired with foods! This was great to help learn what sake tastes pair up with which food tastes… and maybe absorb a little alcohol along the way. We also got a large packet of information upon arriving with all kinds of printouts and charts. The tables were set up for what looked like a dinner with 2 wine glasses at each place setting.

Tenzan Rep answers a questionSoon after we sat down, edemame came out and the first Sake was poured. Mika from Mutual Trading Sake Importing Company introduced herself and the representatives from Dassai, Gassan and Tenzan. Mika gave a presentation that covered the basics in sake production and also touched on food pairings. Then we got to taste the first sake!

For me, this first one was one of the best of the evening. The Tenzan Junmai Daiginjo, which I was told is called “Hitenzan”. The Tenzan rep introduced the sake and we were off…Yummy. this sake warmed a bit closer to room temperature as it sat in the glass during Mika’s presentation, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment one bit. I’ve found it’s fun to experiment with letting sakes “open up” and seeing how the taste changes. The pairing with edamame was, of course delicious, but I would eat edamame with any sake. Could be the thinking was that the Tenzan Daiginjo was such a classic and balanced to perfection, that such a classic sake snack was the perfect pairing. it worked!

Gassan Brewery Rep adn Mika present a very yummy Gassan 35% DaiginjoThe second sake was the Gassan Daiginjo polished to 35%. This was paired with fish cakes. I had never had fish cakes before and it was an odd rubbery taste on my westernized palate. The shape and bright color reminded me of those fanny farmer jelly fruit wedges. The Sake was delightful. This highly polished Daiginjos are so clean and balanced. perfect for sipping and really savoring – which, of course, I did!

Now we were rolling. The third sake poured for us was the famous Dassai 23% Junmai Daiginjo! Still smooth and delightful. Just by merit of the production process alone, this is a really unique sake. Really give this one a try if you get the chance.

To round out the Daiginjos, number 4 was the Hatarugawa Junmai Daiginjo. The english name is “Firefly River” after the well known fireflies in the town of Ogi. This sake has won a gold metal 2 years in a row at the national USA sake competition in Hawaii. This sake was smooth smooth smooth and tasted a little on the fruity side to my palate.

Dassai Rep presenting a NigoriAt about this point in the evening, my note taking got a little loose and sloppy. From this point on I don’t remember exactly which foods paired with which sakes, but we had two types of brie cheese and bread, as well as smoked fish eggs (not my favorite). What I lost in note taking was made up by fun conversation with those at the table with me. such nice folks!

Onward and upward. On to sake Number 5 – Dassai Junmai Ginjo. This is a unique Ginjo that is actually ground to 50% which qualifies as a super premium sake. It tasted a touch on the dry side and was quite enjoyable. Dassai seems to go above and beyond wherever they can to give their sake a little something extra. looks l I will have to investigate this brewery more.

Dassai Nigori being pouredNumber 6 was the Dassai Nigori – now, I DO remember, this unfiltered sake was paired with french fries. Yes, French Fries! AHHH sweet, sweet validation!! I have been telling people for the longest time that my favorite meal with most any sake is a turkey burger and fries. I mean, how can you go wrong with fries? And here was my Validation! For my taste, I found this nigori to be a cut above other nigori out there. it was fresh! and had just a touch of a sparkling-citrusy-thing going on. My first steps into Nigori were a little challenging, but this Nigori was great. Not too “fermenty” not too “ricey”.

The 7th Sake we tasted was Jizake Tenzan. This is a well known Genshu with the bottle wrapped (each one by hand) with a real bamboo leaf. This Sake was strong as ever! As a Genshu, this sake is not diluted with water to lower the alcohol content after brewing. This Tenzan is left with a whopping 18.5% ALC. It was strong Their literature suggests serving on the rocks… maybe not a bad idea! Works for me when my iced coffee is too strong.

A little extra sake shouldn't go to wasteAt the end, Kane brought out some bottles with Sake remaining and we could help ourselves to a second taste of whatever caught our fancy. Thanks Kane! After goodbyes to the nice folks at my table, I headed home into the cool Chelsea evening feeling just great! The “Magic” of sake is that it really has the power to bring people together, and make you feel good. The tasting was such a success and you could tell a lot of hard work was needed to make it happen. Thanks to Kane at Landmark and everyone involved. I’ll try to focus on better note taking next time. Now please pass me the french fries…

April ’06 Sake Meetup

The Sake Cru saddles up to the barThe Sake Meetup group, well, ‘met up’ last night at Landmark for a private tasting. It was quite fun as usual. This night was a study in old friends and new friends… this goes for both the sake AND the people!

I knew two of the sakes that were served on sight. (see, I am learning!) These familiar friends were Mineno Hakubai and Otokoyama We started with an old standby Otokoyama “Man’s Mountain”. Check out my last review of Man’s Mountain here. It tasted quite dry.

Paul preps the tasting and chills the sakeI actually think this Junmai may be a little softer and rounder if you drink it the day after it’s been opened.

Another familiar standby was Mineno Hakubai. Check out my review of this sake here. Old Mineno has been dubbed the “smooth operator” and it didn’t disappoint.

If you see this on the sake menu your next time out, it’s a solid choice if you’re not sure what to try.

Our two nigoris: Hitoimusume and RihakuPaul and Lefty did the organizing for tonight. Thanks guys!! They picked up some great sake snacks – crackers, cheese, mochi as well as Paul’s secret ingredient – banana chips – who knew?

I was so glad to see Amanda on hand as well. We always have fun. Great to get her perspective on what we were tasting and an update on Fiasco, too.

There were some sakes that were new to me as well. It’s always a treat to try something new – you’ll always learn something.

Masumi Arabashiri Name Sake just chillin' outThe new sake kids on the block were Nama Masumi Arabashiri, Rehaku Ginjo Nigori and Hitorimusume Junmai Nigori.

Personally, I really enjoyed the Nama Masumi Arabashiri (ALC 17.5%, SMV=0). It’s a classic nama. If you looked up Nama in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of this sake. It’s Nama-ness was hard to miss: young, fresh taste, super fragrant, floral and fruity.

Both Nigoris were creamy and went down smooth. it was a marked contrast to the somewhat sharp and dry Otokoyama. To my palate the Rehaku had the upper hand.

I think it’s fun to compare nigoris. Seems to me that nigori appreciation is an acquired taste. I disliked them at first, but now I’ve really come to enjoy them.

Mimi Checks out OtokoyamaThere were also some really nice new folks at the meeting – Scott, Nick and Mimi. Great to meet you guys and I hope to see you again.

See? You get the best of both worlds when you try new sakes with new friends and familiar sakes with familiar friends… or is that vise versa? um… Kanpai!

Saka Hana Sake Tasting

Sake Hana Bar and Lounge SignWhen Toshi over at wonderful Sake Hana (265 E. 78th St. Bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave.) emailed me an invitation to an “all-you-can-drink” sake tasting event featuring 11 sakes from 4 brewers I knew I just could not pass it up… but it would be a challange. When you think about it, the “all-you-can-drink” sake tasting is similar to running a marathon:

    * Proper training is essential. If you haven’t worked up to it, you’ll poop out before the end.
    * Eat a solid, carb-rich meal beforehand for the energy to get you through.
    * Be sure you have lot of friends around to help cheer you on.
    * It’s really important to pace yourself for the entire event. Slow and steady wins the race.
    * When you finish, you have a sense of accomplishment to last a lifetime.

Sake Hana CrowdOK, well maybe not that last one, but almost. When I arrived, the tasting was already in full swing. Toshi was greeting folks at the door selling tickets for the event. Once inside, the space had been transformed into “tasting mode”. Only a few tables in the main space set up for delicious appetizers and the brewers, introducing and pouring their sake, were stationed behind the bar.

Pouring Sake at Sake HanaThe 78th st. location brought in a healthy mix of native Japanese expats, Upper East Side locals, American professional types and a few guys obviously trying to impress their dates with some super premium Nihonshu.

The sakes were set up down the length of the bar in order from 1-10. I saw some people doggedly tasting each sake in numerical order. I decided to try a more “chaos theory” oriented approach to tasting. This amounted to: Squeezing up to the bar where ever I found an opening, getting my glass filled with a few sips, chatting with the particular brewer, then stepping back for some appetizers. Rinse and Repeat.

I’ll report briefly on each sake I tried in the order I sampled them.

Dassai 23% junmai daiginjo3) Dassai 23% Junmai Daiginjo. Ok, I tried this one first – everyone was swarming to try the Dassai 23% from the Asahi sake brewery– and with good reason. the 23 means this sake was made with rice that had 77% of it’s outer hull ground away and only 23% of the original rice grain remained. This is the finest milling that is done in Japan. This sake tasted very very smooth and clean. Check out this picture to see the original rice grains on the left and the same amount of rice after milling on the right. Amazing. The subtle quality of this refined sake is what you notice first. Please try this sake if you can find it in your area. you won’t regret it. The Brewery rep even had a mini model of the Dassai 23%, which is very cute and tiny and Japanese.

Miho Imada and ColleagueNext I tried the three sakes from Imada Sake Brewery in Hiroshima. An interesting note about the Imada brewery is that they have a female Toji or Brew master, Miho Imada. She’s pictured on the left, holding a bottle of her great Moon on the Water Junmai Ginjo with a Imada Brewery colleague to the right.
8) Moon on the Water Junmai Ginjo. This Ginjo was nice and solid. not too soft and not too dry.
Then I tried:
7) Biho Junmai Ginjo. This Sake was sharp and dry.
The most interesting from Imada Brewery was sake number 8… Fukucho Hattansou 30% Junmai Daiginjo.

Kasuhiro from Dassai BreweryThis very refined and unusual sake is made using Hattansou sake rice which was uncultivated for 100 years. No other brewery in Japan uses this rice and this sake is not for sale in NYC. I found the taste of this sake to be immediately unique, even before I knew about the special rice. The literature describes the texter to be that of cotton candy. I don’t know about that, but there was a carnival going on in my taste buds while sipping this one.

After a little appetizer break I made my way to the Gassan Brewery area. Gassan means “moon mountain” in English. I enjoyed tasting both number 5… Gassan Junmai Ginjo and number 6… Gassan houjun-karakuchi. Gassan makes a note of how it’s made with a super soft water with low mineral content. This does give Gassan sakes a unique flavor.

Gassan SakesGassan was serving a secret Daiginjo sake not on the list which we dubbed sake number “5.5” — You can see these Gassan Sakes in the photo on the left.

Then I worked my way over to the Tenzan Brewery and tasted number 10…Tenzan Hotarugawa and number 11… Jizake Tenzan. The Jizake Tenzan is a well known sake here in the states. The bottle is wrapped in a bamboo leaf, so it’s not easy to miss on the shelf. The gentleman standing next to me told me he always had Jizake Tenzan on hand at home. This is a genshu sake which is undiluted with water after the brewing process. This makes for one strong sake!

Dassai NigoriI finished by circling back to Dassai to sample number 1… Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo, number 2 Dassai Nigori and number 4 Dassai Funebakumi Gensu. All delicious with that fine elegant thread that runs through all the Dassai products.

All in all, this was just a great evening! So many nice folks and a very friendly atmosphere. It’s Obvious Toshi and everyone at Sake Hana worked very hard to make the night a success. If you get the chance to go to a Sake Hana tasting – you should go! but that’s just between you and me, ok?

Just when things where winding down, Toshi suprised everyone when the sake infused ice cream came out of the kitchen for all the guests. my two favorite things in one glass! sake and ice cream! I couldn’t think of a nicer way to ease across the finish line! Kanpai!

Think Pink!

Sakura @ Brooklyn Botanical GardenOk, class is in session. To fully appreciate this blog entry, there are a few key words of Japanese you need to learn:
Sakura = Cherry Blossom
Matsuri = Festival
Sakura Matsuri = Cherry Blossom Festival!

Scott and I had our own delightful Sake-infused Sakura Matsuri last Sunday. The festivities started with a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. We’d been planning the trip for weeks and then the on-line cherry blossom detector told us that the blossoms were at peak so off we went. It was our first trip the the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the sights did not disappoint us. All the cherry blossoms were in bloom and really did look like “nature’s fireworks”. We also took a loop around the Japanese garden built in 1915 and home to turtles, ducks, carp and koi as well as some very manicured Japanese plants. every step at the BBG created a new vista and there were stunning views everywhere you looked. All this blossom-peeping was getting me hungry and thirsty!

Sakura Restaurant SignCherry-Blossom-themed Sakura restaurant in park slope was the perfect place to quench our thirst. I was pleasantly surprised to find their sake menu to be very expansive! They offered over three full pages of sake, but not all of it by the glass. I have already had many of the sake’s listed on the Sakura menu, so I zeroed in on a brewery I hadn’t tried yet. This time around “Japanese roulette” paid off in spades. I ordered a small carafe of Sawanoi Junmai Ginjo (Tokyo prefecture). This sake tasted light, refreshing and smooth with a tinge of sweetness. It went very, very well with the sushi we ordered and I found myself placing an order for another glass of Sawanoi to replace the carafe that had disappeared too quickly. I’ll have to find a place to buy this in the city… I want to taste it again. Recommended!

Sawanoi GinjoSomewhere I once read about a sake that is served in a traditional masu with a cherry blossom petal floated on the surface. I didn’t understand this before, but now I see this is meant to evoke that serene tableau of sipping sake under cherry blossoms in full bloom and perhaps having a single petal float down into your cup. After my day of home-grown Sakura Matsuri, I can’t think of a more perfect image to help convey the essence of what the whole cherry blossom thing is all about: Taking a moment to stop, sit and sip… to really take in the beauty, and the taste, before it inevitably fades away.

The World’s Best Sake?

Myouka Rangyouku Heavenly FlowerDaishichi Myouka Rangyoku.

Could it be the World’s Best Saké?

I’m talking #1 on Planet Earth!?

The highest quality in the known Universe!?!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I may not be a sake expert just yet, but one sip and my taste buds told me, in no uncertain terms, this is the best, most complex and richest sake I may ever have in my whole life!!

Phew, now that that is off my chest, I guess I better back up a little bit and tell you how this all came to be…

Sakagura is an amazing subterranean world. It’s just a wonderful place to be. I got on their mailing list and they sent me a notice about a special Daishichi Brewery tasting evening. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I booked my reservation right away and Jerin came along for the adventure.

Daishichi tastingThe evening started with a free DaiShiChi Tasting of two sakes. one sip each in a riedel glass. The tasting area was over in the back corner at the bar. The president of Daishichi, Hideharu Ohta was there and he was graciously introducing everyone to his sake. Keita was the nice importer & sake sommelier who was on hand and also helping pour the tastings.

Back in our seats, Jerin and I started with the “Daishichi Tasting Set” ($17). This consisted of 3 Daishichi sakes from their brewery in Fukushima Prefecture: Minowamon Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo, Daishichi Shizen Kimoto, and Daishici Kimoto Honjyozo. You’ll notice that all sakes in the tasting are “Kimoto” sakes. What does this mean? as far as I can tell, Kimoto is a description of the original method of creating a “starter mash” for the sake by mixing rice, koji, and water to a puree BY HAND. This breaks everything down to feed the yeast. The interesting thing here is that Daishichi is well known for using this original and more labor intensive production method. Cool!

Daishichi tasting set The first sake of the three, Minowamon Kimoto was really a delight! delicious, smooth and clean. The second sake in the tasting was Shizenshu Kimoto, a junmai. The third sake was Daishichi Kimoto Honjyozo. The sakes were presented in small shotglass style cups, filled to the brim. In the Sakagura style, the bottles were left out for examination while our tasting was in progress. this is an excellent custom, as long as the customer knows the bottle is for looking at and not for pouring second helpings. It is really great to look at the bottle. you can see such things as pairing suggestions, SMV, rice type used etc, etc… The samples were small, so I powered thru this tasting pretty quickly. Then the question comes up what to drink next…

Heavenly FlowerOur friendly sake sommelier/waitress highly recommended the special Sakagura Exclusive Super Rare tasting options that they only had on hand for that night – and only two bottles each. The first was Myouka Rangyoku a.k.a. “Heavenly Flower”. I ordered the “tasting size”… about 1.8 oz for $32. Sounds expensive you say? Well, the 720ml bottle of “Heavenly Flower” costs $460. I thought of it this way… when would I have the chance to sample such a costly sake again?! and you know what? It was worth every penney. Each tiny sip of the Myouka Rangyoku was an honest-to-goodness sake bomb with flavor activating every taste bud. This Trickle Dai Ginjo is also an aged sake from the 2003 vintage. simply beyond amazing.

Pouring Sizuku GenshuJerin ordered the tasting size of the super rare Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo Sizuku Genshu (vintage 1990, 1.8 oz, $30). I’ve had aged sakes before.. but they were a dark brown. This sake was amazing in that, even though it was 16 years old, it was more or less clear! I was told this had to do with the purity of the sake that was used to start with. Once I had a sip or two, the simple wafting backdrop of taru (cedar) came through. Again, this shook up my notions of what taru is or what aged sake is. it was very drinkable and Jerin prefered it to the Myouka Rangyoku. I would recommend this as an afterdinner drink. a very special treat to complete a very special meal. We were, however, in the middle of our meal and the 1.8oz serving sizes for these two amazing treats were not filling us up.

Daishichi classicAs a final Daishichi adventure for the evening, and coming down off the most complex sake ever, I asked our sommelier for something easy! please give me a daishichi that is accessible, drinkable and easy. She came back to us with a carafe of daishichi “classic”. This junmai sake tasted strict and more acidic, but how could it not coming off heavenly flower?! I grew to enjoy the flavor as we sipped away over the rest of our dinner and through our dessert.

WOW, what an evening. This was such a great introduction to the Daishichi Brewery. It is obvious that Mr. Ohta and everyone at Daishichi take great pride in using the latest technology, milling and bottling methods and combining that with traditional brewing methods to create a very unique, consistant and delightful line of sakes. Thanks to Sakagura for hosting the evening. what a treat. Oh, if any other Sake Brewers out there are reading this and you think YOUR Sake deserves to be named’s World’s Best Sake, please send me a sample right away and I will be happy to give you my review!

It’s so ISE to fall in love…

ISE interiorHave you ever seen that show Survivor Man? It’s about this MacGyver-type survival expert guy that gets dropped by helicopter into a remote, harsh and desolate area (mountain top, death valley…) and he has to survive for a week and film the whole thing showing his survival tricks along the way. I felt a little like Survivor Man myself last Wednesday night when I was leaving the Japan society after seeing a movie there. I found myself stranded in unknown terrain, (midtown east), starving (for sushi) and dying of thirst (for some sake).Luckily for me, Scott’s survival instincts quickly kicked in and he rememberd a japanese restaurant in the area recommended to him long ago by a japanese hairdresser who has long since returned to Japan. A recommendation from a native, even one possibly past it’s expiration date, was good enough for me… so we were on the hunt for ISE restaurant.

We found ISE at 151 East 49th Street and this place looked promising from the start. the place was packed and they found room for us upstairs in what they called the “asian style room”. When we got upstairs, we found a small tatami room with three tables.

KirosawaOur petite waitress was delightful, but when it came to a sake recommendation, she confided that she didn’t drink sake as just a little bit made her dizzy. The sake selection was limited and traditional, but solid.

I started with the Kurosawa Junmai. I was psyched to see that ISE serves their sake using the laquer (plastic?) masu with a clear glass inside just like Decibel! Only catch is that since, we were upstairs in our private “asian style room” we didn’t get the bottle presented and poured to overflowing in front of us. Kirosawa is what I would call a great dinking sake. I would compare it to a fine table wine. yummy just to have on hand and it goes great with food, but nothing to scream from the rooftops about.

Sake Glass in MausJust a littel side note: I’m still figuring out how exactly one is supposed to proceed with this glass-in-masu treatment. To the left is basiclly what you start out with. Sake in glass, sake in Masu. How to drink?!Sake pours out of Masu!If you leave the glass IN the masu and sip, you will soon reach an angle where the sake in the masu pours out at you. this one strikes when you least expect it! And the sharp corner of the masu acts like a spout. Usually ends up in your lap!

Sake Cup dripping in a masuIf you lift the glass out of the masu, it drips. The sake that is in the Masu drips off the bottom as soon as you get the glass anywhere near your face. what a waste!What I HAVE been doing is lifting the masu and sipping from the glass until the sake is about 1/3 gone, being careful not to spill. Then I’ve been taking the glass out, letting it drip over the masu for a second or two and then pouring the remaining sake into the masu and drinking from there, setting the glass aside. sound right? Can anyone advise me?Ichinokura Himezen The second sake I tried was the Ichinokura Himezen, a very light Junmai. This sake’s key word was neutral… in a good way. Very middle of the road in it’s flavor profile. again very drink-able. delightful. Scott also had a glass of Ichinokura and he was kind enough to let me finish his. The big news on this sake is that it’s only 8.5% ALC content. So you can enjoy more – i’m sure this would refresh you perfectly on a hot summer day.ISE is a real treasure. If you find your self lost in the Urban Jungle, knowing about this place and their neat sake selection is one survival skill you can’t live without.

Shochu Superiority Complex

Birthday Cake Suprise Sometimes, you just have to believe in good omens. On my first trip to Uminoie Japanese restuarant (86 E. 3rd St.) the neighboring table handed me a piece of their birthday cake just after Scott and I were seated. I took it as a sign that our experience at this place was going to be SWEEEET! …and it was.

The food was home cooked and excellent, the sake interesting and the service/atmosphere was what I would call ‘refreshingly odd’.

First things first… be aware that the sake selection on the menu is limited. As soon as you take one look at the drink menu – it’s obvious: this is a Shochu joint. There is an entire page of the small drink menu that is devoted to every strain and variant of shochu you could imagine. If you bring your own Shochu, they even offer to store your bottle and have it ready to pour for your next visit. What about the sake? well, here is what Uminoie offers in the way of sake to those customers that are not yet ready to board that bullet train to Shochu-ville:

Hakkaisan (honjozo)
Kubota (senju)
Koshinokanbai (muku)
Shiwakawago (unfiltered)

Sake servered at UminoieWhenever I look at a new sake menu, I’m always instantly drawn to the sakes i’ve never heard of (or… maybe don’t remember). When the waiter came around for our drink order, my first question was about the Koshinokanbai (muku). What does muku mean? never heard that term before. He quickly informed me that they were out of Koshino Kanbai Muku and he strongly recommended I try some shochu. Undeterred, I asked if they had the Tengumai on hand and he said, yes, they did have that sake, but I should really consider the shochu… it is the specialty of the house. Seeing that my questions about sake were getting me nowhere, I needed to take action. I looked him in the eye and firmly ordered the Tengumai Junmai sake and Scott, in a clear sign of sake solidarity, ordered a glass of the Kubota Senju Junmai.

I sensed our waiter was a tiny bit dissappointed he didn’t ‘convert’ us. However, if they are as passionate about shochu as I am about sake, I can understand the motivation at least. Our sake arrived in decidedly dowdy little cups. As you can see by the shape, they may have had a previous incarnation as an airwick scented candle. I don’t mean to be a grouch, but presentation is such a big part of the sake experience IMHO. On to the tasting:

Tengumai JunmaiMy selection was the Tengumai Junmai brewed by Shata Shuzo Co., Ltd. from Ishikawa Prefecture. The name for this sake in English is Dance of Long Nosed Goblins. love that.

Some other stats:
ALC : 15.5%
Nihonshu-Do : 4
Sake Rice : Gohyakumangoku

I found this sake to have a thick, full and pungent flavor. This sake has the backbone to stand up to fuller fare when pairing with food, which is good. However it does seem to lack that understated essense that draws people to premium sake in the first place.

Kubota Senju JunmaiScott’s choice of the Kubota Senju Junmai was the evening’s winner. It’s brewed in Niigata Prefecture by Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing Co., Ltd. with an ALC content of 15.5%.

This was a delightful junmai that I would describe as crisp and light and oh so drinkable. it was an excellent match to all our delicious food. When chilled, it really had that taste of drinking fresh moutain spring water on a hot day. refreshing!

All in all this was what I would call an “away game” in terms of sake friendliness. But, it was a great sake learning experience. I got to try some new sakes and get some fresh perspective on what other types of drinks people are passionate about. Well, I realize sake can’t be everyone’s favorite drink. After all, It Takes a Village! If you get the chance, check out Uminoie. Tell them Urban Sake sent you – and keep your eyes peeled for cake.

Decibel Sake Bar

Decibel Sake Bar signI’ve been to Decibel once before, but this is my first post about this amazing NYC sake institution. I think it’s run by the same folks that own Sakagura, but, even though they are both in basements, the feel between the two places couldn’t be more different. Decibel goes for that gritty, dark, urban, graffiti-strewn effect. The walls here remind me of a NYC subway car circa 1978. I was out with my friend Brad for a long overdue check in and catch up. I’d like to think that Decibel is a true representation of what you would actually find in a gritty, dark, urban, graffiti strewn tokyo sake bar. Since I don’t have that round trip to Tokyo booked yet, this fill-in will do just fine.

Well, it was very dark at decibel, so my photos came out a little grainy, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Decibel Sake Bar sign I started with a super-premium sake that was one of the most expensive per glass… the Harushika DaiGinjo (5 oz.). As the waitress poured the Harushika, I asked her if she liked this sake. She said. “I loooooooooooove this sake. After a few sips, I did too. You could say this Sake had a style like your favorite brooks brothers button down shirt. comfortable, soft & well worn. Effortlessly elegant and balanced with a strong finish. yum.

I love the presentation at Decibel so much. As far as I know they are the only show in town that presents in this way. They use a traditional laquer-esque black & red masu with a 5 oz clear glass set inside. they pour the glass full and overflow into the masu box. Real sake bars in Japan (that I’ve seen on TV) have this exact same treatment. The waitstaff is also great – very helpful and friendly. Since sake is not all to widely understood, I’m sure they get asked a lot of the same questions all the time, but they seem focused on making you feel comfortable and happy.

Dried SquidMy friend Brad has been to japan about 4 times and he knows some of the bar snacks to order that may not be as popular here. Tonight, brad was brave enough to introduce me to something I’d never even heard of – shredded dried squid. it looks, quite literally, like a pile of chopped up frayed twine. And on first blush, it tastes like chopped up frayed twine. However, Brad taught me the waxon-waxoff secret of this dish. you put a small piece of dried squid in your mouth and start to chew and chew and chew…give it a full 90 seconds. If you hang in there you’ll be rewarded with a rush of fishy-squidy-seafood flavor in your mouth as the squid-jerky softens up.

A pile of these squid strips takes an incredibly long time to eat as you have to patiently chew each and every strip. Therein, however lies the secret. You simply cannot wolf down a plate of this stuff as if it were a supersize fries – You’re forced to savor and linger over a plate of shredded dried squid as you sip your sake and talk to your friends. For a harried New Yorker (who happens to like a fishy-squidy-seafood flavor), it’s delightful!

Decibel graffitiAs Brad and I masticated our way about half-way through the towering pile of shredded squid, I knew it was definitely time for a second round of sake. I went with the Dassai Ginjo.

This sake was clean and nice – but maybe a little too prim and proper. This is a sake you might have in the back of your little black book. If you don’t have anything sexier lined up, you can always give Dassai Ginjo a call as your plan B.

It’s always good to have a plan B. After Brad and I executed our Plan B and the Squid Jerky was a memory, we bundled out into the rainy NYC evening delighted by the quiet streets and cool spring air that the evening rain had brought. what a fun night.

Decibel LanternDecibel is a great place to ‘pump up the volume’ on your sake knowledge. Please make a trip if you have not been there already. It’s cool It’s got sake. It’s got cool sake. This is a wonderful place to go and bring out of town friends. They’ll think you know every underground speakeasy in the city. Heck, take your friends that live in New York, they’ll think the same thing. By any measure this Decibel is music to my ears.