Donguri EntranceNew York’s Upper East Side is a bastion of Old Money, well preserved traditions as well as many well preserved ‘Ladies who Lunch’. Kinda goes without saying that this mostly makes for a decidedly un-hip place to hang out. On my last trip to the UES, my search for sake took me to delightful Donguri Restaurant (309 East 83rd Street 212-737-5656). All outward appearances makes you think that Donguri is a place stuck in the past with it’s somewhat conservative-feeling interior, place setting and waitress uniforms. However, a peek at the sake menu made me see that these guys were squarely focused on quality, not flash in the pan fads.

dewazakura omachiI quickly ordered a sake I had yet to try, namely the Dewazakura “Omachi” Junmai Ginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Omachi, Seimaibuai: 50%, Yamagata Prefecture). The “Omachi” in the name stands for Omachi rice, one of the better known strains of sake rice. I really enjoyed this sake and I’m anxious to try it again. My biggest impression was it’s refreshing nature, good structure and a neat touch of crisp fruit opening up with hints of grapes and melon. The finish is dry. I think the rice plays a big role with this sake and it will be fun to learn more about rice in coming months. Give it a try if you can!

Donguri_carafe.jpgThe food at Donguri was also a study in quality. My sashimi was terrific but there was one dish on the menu that kinda stole the show: Sweet Corn Tempura. When the couple at the next table ordered two servings, Scott and I knew we had to investigate. The taste was yummy, sweet and fried – with a pop corn aftertaste. This was one of my favorite foods I’ve ever had. The Omachi Junmai Ginjo worked well with the tempura, and had enough backbone to stand up. Our Waitress confirmed that the Sweet Corn Tempura was a very popular dish. It’s prepared by simple shaving off chunks of corn right from the cob and into the fryer. a revelation!

Corn_Tempura.jpgA bowl of green tea ice cream later and I was in heaven. I left Donguri content and very, very happy with my meal and sake.

This is a restaurant to visit with friends who will appreciate a true Japanese experience at a place where they can’t even spell the word “fusion”.

_Sake_hana_sign.jpgOur friend Toshi at Sake Hana was host to another Late Night tasting devoted this time to the fantastic Dassai brand sakes from Asahi Brewery in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The July 20th tasting was indeed late – starting at 11pm, but in the name of sake research, I persevered.

An entire tasting devoted to one brand of sake? Dassai carries it off as an elegant study in perfection. You can just tell from the taste that Dassai is the real deal and they are focued on quality and refinement.

Mr. Sakurai and his colleague Mr Kinoshita from Dassai brought over some tremendous sakes from Asahi Brewery that are not currently available in the US.

Here is a quick rundown of what was served:

  • Dassai 23
  • Dassai 39 (not available in US)
  • Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori (not available in US)
  • Dassai 48 (not available in US)
  • Dassai 50
  • Dassai 50 Nigori

Dassai_50.jpgIn addition to the sakes, this tasting promised two other spectaular treats. There would be appetizers served that were made with Dassai kasu (kasu refers to the sake lees – the left over bits of rice solids after brewing and pressing) AND, most exciting of all, a serving of Yamadanishiki 23% steamed sake rice! I mean – how often do you get to taste what some consider the finest sake rice around milled down to an astonishing 23% of it’s original size? Unless you happen to live in a sake brewery, I bet not very often.

KC_serving_dassai.jpgKC was helping pour and the bar. Always nice to see a friendly face behind the bar! So on I went to start tasting!

I started with the crown jewel of the dassai family – the stellar Dassai 23 (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 23%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3). This is a super, duper deluxe junmai daiginjo made with sake rice milled down to 23% of it’s original size before brewing. The Dassai 23 is expensive and I think rightfully so, given the care and attention it’s made with. And the taste? It’s super smooth and one of the most elegant sakes out there. This is one of those brews that will not hit you over the dassai_23.jpghead with a punch of flavor – it’s all about the subtlety, complexity and refinement. Dassai 23 is meant to be savored and sipped.

I then moved on to taste again my favorite Dassai sake! The amazing Dassai 39! (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 39%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3) This is a fantastic sake and I always, always savor it when I get a chance to drink it. Dassai 39 is not available in the US at this time. I find this sake so appealing because it has much of the refined, elegant tones of the Dassai 23 and a touch of the backbone of the Dassai 50. dassai_39_bottle.jpgin short, it’s the best of both worlds! The taste is sublime. If you have a chance to go to a dassai tasting or go to Japan, I recommend this sake as a “must try”.

Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 39%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3) is like the Dassai 39 dressed up for a night on the town with all the bells and whistles. As the handout from Sake Hana described it: “A delicate bubble takes you to a sake world”. I couldn’t agree more!

Finally, I enjoyed the sample fo Yamadanishiki Rice ground to 23% of it’s original size. Since this rice was mostly the pure starch, it was indeed on the sweeter side. It was sticky and quite soft on the palate. Such a unique opportunity!

Yamadanashiki_sake_rice.jpgBy the time the tasting ended – around 1 am! – I was feeling good and delighted to have has such good sake. As I walked home down the quiet streets of the upper east side, I thought about all the work and care that went into the sakes I had just enjoyed.

I was more sure than ever that sake will be an ever larger part of the beverage landscape here in the U.S in months and years to come. Kanpai to that!

Here are four unique Junmais I’ve reviewed in the month of July. Click through to the Full review page to see more. If you’ve tried any of these, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

ohyama_junmai_nama.jpgOhyama Tokubetsu Junmai Nama

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Ohyama

Prefecture: Yamagata

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai: 60%

Alchohol Content: 15.5%

Sake Meter Value: +3

Acidity: 1.5

lightly fragrant nose. hints of crisp pear – not too fruity. mild, light nama flavors. lingering finish. More

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suishin_junmai.jpg

Suishin

Drunken Heart

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Suishin Yamane Honten & Co., Ltd.

Prefecture: Hiroshima

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai:

Alchohol Content: 15.5%

Sake Meter Value: +3

Acidity: 1.7

Suishin junmai “drunken heart” hiroshima prefecture. honey in the nose. full body thick mouthfeel. dry finish. More

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echigo_tsurukame.jpg Echigo Tsurukame

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Uehara Shuzo Sake Brewing Co., Ltd.

Prefecture: Niigata

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai: 60%

Alchohol Content: 14.5%

Sake Meter Value: +3.0

“Classic” rice-y taste. very dry, full bodied solid junmai. strong rice in the nose. More

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sawanoi_iroha.jpg Sawanoi Kiokejikomi Iroha Kimoto

Fountain of Tokyo

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Sawanoi

Prefecture: Tokyo

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai: 65%

Alchohol Content: 16.5%

Sake Meter Value: -1

Acidity: 2.1

Nutty creamy, full on robust kimoto style. unique – something to really dig your teeth into. Aged in a wooden barrel, but that cedar flavor does not overwhelm here. I found the flavor a bit unusual, but not at all unpleasant. More

Business_card_Sobakoh.jpgHello. My name is Timothy and I’m SobaKoh-dependent.

It all started out so innocently. A little nibble of tempura here, a sip of sake there and before I knew it I was loudly and forcefully slurping soba broth and gulping sake with wild abandon. Let this be your warning – if you read further – you may end up like me.

sobakoh_bar_seating.JPGSobaKoh (309 East 5th St. NYC. 212-254-2244) is one of those restaurants that you can tell is welcoming even from the outside. It’s clean, well designed, spacious. I felt even more at home when i took a gander at the large Sake menu!

A word about this sake menu – often I get the sense that some restaurants don’t make their sake selection a top priority. SobaKoh on the other hand, has a very solid grouping and their list is beautifully edited and put together in an attractive menu of its own. Bravo! Other drinks are offered, but sake is clearly the star. These folks get it! Here is a sampling of what they currently offer:

Junmais:
Tedorigawa “Yamahai Junmai”
Masumi “Okuden Kantsukuri”
Koshi no Kanbai “Muku”
Harushika Junmai
Nanbu Bijin “Tokubetsu Junmai”

Ginjos:
Dewazakur “Izumi Judan”
Masumi “Yamahai Ginjo”
Kikusui Junmai Ginjo
Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo

Daiginjos:
Tedorigawa “Yamahai Daiginjo”
Masumi “Nanago”

umenishiki

To whet my whistle, I fell like a ton of bricks for their special summer “nama” offering. I ended up ordering the Umenishiki Daiginjo Nama (“Gorgeous Plum”, SMV +3.5, Acidity: 1.5, Ehime Prefecture).

This sake is an interesting brew to say the least. It’s a rare Daiginjo nama. The overall impression is fresh and summery without being overly sweet and fruity. There is a bit of fruit essence that hits you first but surprisingly also a touch of dryness that works perfectly. As an unpasteurized nama, this treat is only available seasonally – so enjoy if you can get your hands on it.

After the yummy Daiginjo Nama, the food arrived. In short, perfect Soba, perfect tempura… just terrific. I needed a sake to go with all this food and found my attention drawn to one word on the sake menu… “honjozo”.

kubota_senju_bottle.jpgHonjozo sometimes feels like the forgotten younger sibling of the sake family. SobaKoh offered one honjozo on their menu which I ordered a carafe of, namely Kubota Senju Honjozo (“1000 Long Lives”, SMV +6, Acidity 1.2, Niigata Prefecture). Kubota is a brand that never disappoints and their Honjozo Senju does them proud. The nose and my first tastes hinted at light orange peel – just a twinge of citrus. The overall palate is dry and clean. I found this brew works well with food and is less of a stand alone sipping sake. It went great with our soba.

A final word about the amazing service at SobaKoh. The staff there works hard and makes you feel so welcome. With this terrific combo of great soba, first rate sake selection and wonderful hospitality, no wonder I became immediately addicted. If this is sobaKoh dependency, I don’t want no cure.