I took Scott out for his birthday to a fantastic new sushi restaurant – 15 East. They have an amazing sake selection to boot. So, it turned out to be a treat for both of us. In this video I just wanted to give you a flavor of what we experienced. I also highlight some of the sakes they offer by the glass on their extensive sake list. If you’ve tried this place, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it.

15 East is not to be missed so cook up a special occasion and give it a try!

sobaya_sake_storageDown old East Village way is a little soba place called Soba-ya that is just the bees knees. I’ve been there twice now, so it’s finally time to post on the sake happenings at this terrific soba joint. First thing to know – there will always be a wait to be seated if you arrive without reservations- this place is popular! The interior could pass for your standard just-above-average sushi restaurant, but I don’t think people come here for the ambiance.

pouring_izumijudan.jpgIt was raining the night I went last, so we lucked out and there was only about a 10 min wait to sit at the bar – which is the most fun place to sit in most japanese restaurants anyway, i’m learning. Before we get to the sake, a quick word on the food. ok, it’s delicious. The soba is perfect and the tempura is dreamy. Something I learned: They also give you soba cooking water to pour into your dipping sauce to make a yummy broth to finish your meal – I wasn’t sure what to make of this practice at first, but it’s really delicious. It’s like a free soup with your meal! and nothing goes to waste.

kurosawa_junmai_kimotoSoba-ya sake menu is broad and well chosen. This could almost be sake soba heaven. I say almost because there is one tiny little drawback. What is it? All about the Moola. The prices were a bit on the steep side – about $18 for a single masu. This sticker shock drove me again to a carafe of a lower-priced, yet lovable stand by: Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto (Kurosawa Brewing Co., SMV +2, Junmai Kimoto, Nagano Prefecture). Ahh… Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto is a favorite of this sake lover. It may not be overly complex or layered but, it is smooth, drinkable, a touch dry and I think it pairs just perfectly with more hearty fare like the tempura I wasdewazakura_izumijudan.jpg enjoying. Since this Junmai is easy on the wallet, i try to buy this sauce in the 1.8 liter size and I think it often as an everyday sipping sake after a long day at work.

After my Kurosawa ni-go carafe ran low, I looked again to the sake menu for something else – I wanted just one more “go”! for the evening. I turned to another well known sake: Dewazakura Izumijudan Ginjo (”Tenth Degree” ALC 17.5% SMV +12, Acidity 1.4, Seimaibuai 50%, Yamagata Prefecture). This charmer is drier and more layered than the Kurosawa. It goes down smooth, though and I really enjoyed it. It has a nice depth of flavor that was great to sip on after my meal.

When all is said and done, the folks at Soba-ya get it right. They focus on great soba and terrific sakes to go with them. If headed here to make a sake soaked night of it, be prepared for the nihon-shu prices, but if you plan well and drink conservatively, you will no doubt leave happier than you arrived.

New York is crowded and hot. Yuck! what better reason to head out of the city and do a little “sake research”?

Zip across NJ and before you know it, you’re in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. I wanted to see how much sake lovin’ was going on in the city that bore witness to such world-changing events as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the drafting of the US Constitution and the invention of the Cheese Steak Sandwich.

morimoto  signOur first stop on the road to Sakedelphia was perhaps the most well known Japanese restaurant in all of Pennsylvania, Morimoto. Masaharu Morimoto is best known as one of the Iron Chefs in both the US and Japanese versions of the program. He started his signature restaurant in Philly and later opened a New York Branch of Morimoto. I haven’t been to Morimoto New York, but the Philly branch rubbed me a bit the wrong way from the get-go. To start off with our waiter asked us if we liked both sushi and SHIshimi. (pet peeve alert! Jeez! I may not be fluent in Japanese yet, but even I know it’s SA-shi-mi.) In addition, everything in the restaurant is rigidly fixed in place…the tables and chairs are secured to the floor, the light on each table is bolted down. This signaled to me that you need to fit into this space, not the other way around. No disturbing the design or geometric layout, please. This inflexibility unfortunately extended to the sake menu. For the serious sakes on the menu there was only sake from one brewery, Fukumitsuya. and they offered one Morimoto Brand Junmai, one Ginjo and one Daiginjo. In the name of sake research, I went for the $30 tasting flight which gave me a two ounce vial of each.

morimoto_flight.jpgThe Fukumitsuya was mostly good, but nothing special. Each grade I tried was a fair representative of it’s class… the Junmai was hearty, the ginjo a bit more mellow and open (however, I also found it the most unbalanced of the three) and the Dainginjo more floral and delicate. The limited and restrictive Morimoto sake menu reminded me of my Matt Damon dominated birthday dinner at Nobu, (p.s. Chef Morimoto was executive chef at Nobu for a few years.) also a restaurant that restricts it’s sake to one ‘branded’ Brewery. What’s up with this anyway? Are the chefs so wedded to having a Nobu or Morimoto branded sake? or are they “helping” their customers by only offering one simple sake option? Reminds me of that time I went shopping in an East German supermarket… one brand of coffee, cola or milk for sale – take it or leave it. In the final analysis, Morimoto wasn’t bad – actually the SHIshimi was the best part of the meal – but for the cost and all the hoopla, I was hoping for something a little more special.

After dinner, we walked around historic Old City. Just after we bumped into Ben Franklin, (for real!) we happened upon another japanese restaurant – Haru. Now, this restaurant launched from New York to Philadelphia – just the reverse of Morimoto. I peeked at the menu which looked good and checked out their tiny sake listing. Sakes offered by the glass included sho chiku bai junmai (US made), Yaegaki junmai (US made), Kaori Ginjo, Yamadanishiki Ginjo and a Zuicho Daiginjo . shiroi hanaScott and I didn’t get a chance to eat here, but the staff seemed friendly however, the small and somewhat US-made sake list didn’t warrant a return.

On our second night out on the search for sake, we turned to Zagat for some insight into japanese cuisine in Philadelphia. Shiroi Hana was comparatively highly rated by philadelphians so, going by Zagat alone, we picked that as our next dinner spot. Wat a mistake! This wasn’t a Japanese run sushi establishment and the utter disregard for sake of any importance on the menu disappointed. The menu offered “hot” sake and “cold” sake and a gekkikan daiginjo by the bottle. ouch! I actually went with the Diet Coke in protest. The food was so-so and the lack of any interesting premium sake made me weep silently. E tu Zagat?

fuji_mountain.jpgOur last night was winding to a close and so far Philly was getting pretty low marks for sake friendliness. On our way back to the hotel from Shiroi Hana, we were going to pass one more restaurant called Fuji Mountain that supposedly had sake on the menu. We decided to stop in for dessert and some sake to check it out.

Fuji Mountain was, in a word, terrific! This place was a real find and saved Philly’s sake rep from the Hall of Shame at the 11th hour. The guys at Fuji Mountain recently put a new and expansive sake menu together. The best thing was the decision of offer a large selection of 300ml bottles. these small bottles keep sake sealed and at it’s freshest and are great for one or two people. The selection of 25 sakes offered was well put together and broken down into ‘Semi-Dry’, ‘Dry’, ‘Extra Dry’ and ‘Unique and Interesting’ sections – Hakkaisan_ginjo.jpghere is look at some of the sake offerings the night I was there:

Dassai Junmai Ginjo, Matushima Junmai, Kikusui Junmai Ginjo, Karakuchi Honjozo, Tokeseu Gold Daiginjo, Dassai Nigori. Yum, some good stuff!

I ordered one of my favorites, the Hakkaisan Ginjo (Hakkaisan Brewery Co., Niigata Prefecture, SMV +5, Acidity 1.0, ALC 15.5%). It was delicious – smooth and round in flavor. most drinkable! And if that wasn’t enough, Fuji Mountain also has a full-on Sake lounge upstairs and a separate Karaoke room to rent. I think the efforts of the guys at Fuji Mountain are a great first step on the road to full blown sake revolution in Philly. Now that’s a fight i’ll sign on for!