display.jpg From the outside, Izakaya Izu (9 E. 13th St, NYC 10003) looks like a sake lover’s wet dream. The windows are stacked high with glowing sake bottles lit from below. The extensive sake menu is proudly displayed by the front door. Everything seems in order, but cracks in the surface of this sake wonderland start to show once you step inside.

Ace_hardware.jpgOk, Thai Food on the menu should have been the first warning sign that this place has a deep-seated identity crisis. Well, now that I think about it, any true Izakaya wouldn’t offer sushi either. Well, what about that great big expansive sake menu? You guessed it… for half the sakes the poor waitress had to say, “Sorry, we’re out of that one. we really should update our menu.” ugh!

They did have one nama in stock, so I thought that might turn things around. We ordered the the Hachitsuru Nama. I knew I’d had this sake recently, but the details escaped me. I was suprise to see the sake arrive in a $2 paint bucket like you would get at the hardware store. Also, the sake was served in boring old shot glasses.

After a few sips I realized the last time I tried Hachitsuru Junmai Nama, it was OK but didn’t knock my socks off. promises.jpgThis would be a good chance to try it again under different circumstances and gauge my reaction the second time around. Honestly, it was much the same. This is a junmai nama that leaves me a little flat. The tastes it does come at you with are a little milky and not balanced or nuanced.

Also, it doesn’t have that fresh-alive punch that you can get from Namas. Most namas are just sooo good, and there are so many good ones out there, it really doesn’t make sense to spend your time on a mediocre one.

Well, The stars just weren’t aligned for sake success last night. However, the evening wasn’t a total loss as i learned a valuable lesson. If I ever again find myself an Izakaya that serves Thai food – I’m out of there faster than you can say ‘peaunt sauce’.

Wild Lilly Sake TastingScott and I had our first date at the Wild Lilly Tea Room in Chelsea just one year ago. Meeting for tea seems harmless enough, and last march, my tastes ran more to sencha than sake juice. This night was similar to last year in so many ways : we sat at the same table right next to the goldfish pond, I got there first and sat nervously waiting and the wind was just as cold and blistery. Since we are more committed now than on our first date, Scott and I committed to eating dinner rather than having “just tea”. Along with dinner, I knew Scott would be a willing co-conspirator in sneaking some sake-hooch into our anniversary night and lucky for me, Wild Lilly serves a solid selection of sakes!

I went straight for their sample ‘flight’. You get to pick 5 out of 6 sakes they serve by the glass for $25. As fate would have it, they served a taru (sake produced in cedar barrels) so I knew that would be easy to toss overboard – it’s not my favorite. The sake sampling that Wild Lilly served had both ups & downs. On the plus side, the sakes were very unique and even exotic. The presentation was beautiful. they used that eclectic wacky ‘oh-my-gosh-all-our-glasses-don’t-match’ aesthetic I also saw at Chibi’s bar. On the negative side they had a similarity to chibi bar as well. The serving size was small! It made me wish for a second they would adopt a little American Super-Sizing. (or am I just being a greedy sake-hound?). Here is a list of the sakes I tried:

Tezukuri Junmai brewed by NishiNoSeki/Kayashima Shuzo Co. in Oita Prefecture “Champ of the West”

Ichinokura Himezen Jumai, Miyagi-Prefecture “Sweet Princess” alcohol, 8%

Tenjomukyu Jumai Ginjo brewed by by Suishin Shuzo Co., Ltd. Hiroshima prefecture

Harushika Junmai Daiginjo Nara-Prefecture “Deer in the Spring” Rice: Yamada Nishiki, Nihonshu-do: +3~+4, Seimaibuai: 50%

Hanahato Kijoshu (aged sake) brewed by Enoki Shuzo Co., Ltd., Hiroshima-Prefecture “Flowers and Birds” aged for 8 years, Nihonshu-do (Sake Meter Value): -45 , ALC 16.9%

There were two standouts in the crowd – The Harushika Daiginjo and the Hanahato aged sake. Harushika was delicate and clear. So clear, I ordered a small carafe when my few sips from the tasting were gone. The Hanahato was amazing! It tasted like an odd but wonderful port. I want to get my hands on some more. This would have been the perfect after-thanksgiving dessert wine! well, november is only 9 months away.

perfect soupEverything at Wild Lilly was perfectly presented and small in size. This held true for our sake as well as for our meal. But check out the soup that came with our dinner. Have you ever seen such a simple yet elegant presentation? It kinda sums up this whole special evening. Sometimes seemingly small sips are meant not to deprive but to show you the path to true appreciation. I know that sounds very “wax on, wax off”, but I do savor my sips just a little bit more these days. Happy Sake-versary Kleine!

Chibi's bottlesI finally got to experience Chibi’s bar in Soho. Jerin took me out for my birthday. The windows were lined with Sake bottles however, everything was a little heavy on the cocktail umbrellas. This place was nice and quiet – Jerin had it almost to ourselves except for a gabby poor man’s sex-and-the-city quartet next to us.

The best thing about going to Chibi’s is seeing Chibi himself – the owners french bulldog. Tres cute and outfitted with a snazzy red bandana. Chibi is pretty down to earth for being the star of the show. He seems happy being petted but I think he’s really just sniffing the ground for crumbs off the table.

The sake tasting we had was interesting and well thought out. Jerin had the same flight as I did but his was served in 3 matching glasses. Mine, on the other hand was served in a mish-mash of 3 crazy glasses. Maybe all the matching glasses were in the dishwasher and they needed to improvise. Or, they just knew I was the waaaacky one with the messy apartment. In any case, we both got them served on a cute tray along with a card explaining each sake. Here’s the rundown on the 3 sakes we tasted from Chibi’s sake tasting menu.

Chibi's flight1) Haraushika Shiboribana Junmai Ginjo “spring deer” from Nara Prefecture. Nihonshu-do: +5, Seimaibuai: 60%. This sake was yummy and lightly sweet. It had the nose of a fruit cocktail and fruit tastes on the tongue as well. I liked it!

2) Koshi No Homare (Shiboritate a.k.a. “freshly pressed sake”) “The Pride of Niigata”. Sake Meter Value: +5; Acidity 1.6. from NIIGATA Prefecture. This sake was dry and round and had a full dairy taste.

3) Kamikokoro Junmai Daiginjo from Okayama Prefecture. This Sake had a sharp taste with strong peach-y tones and a balanced acidity. This one was my favorite.

So all in all the night was great. I would go back for the sake, but I would fill up on food beforehand as the food portions are small and expensive. This is a great place to go for a sake on a weeknight.

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.

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,

Cheers!


OZEKI 1.5 L

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]

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

[rate 4.0]