Interview: Lannie Ahn at Izakaya Ten

Lannie Ahn, Owner Izakaya Ten

Lannie Ahn, Owner Izakaya Ten

Izakaya Ten is a great Japanese style sake pub in Chelsea. Becoming ever more sake friendly, they recently expanded their sake list and also expanded their hours (Thursday-Saturday ’til 3:00am). Who’s behind all this wonderful sake expansion? It’s Lannie Ahn, Izakaya Ten owner, but also a true sake aficionado. I recently sat down with Lannie to discuss the world of sake.

Q: How did you first discover sake?

Lannie Ahn: I’m a Korean, so traditionally, I’ve known about sake from my childhood. Even though it’s Japanese drink, we knew about sake as we were growing up. Also in our Confucianism ceremony there is a celebration where we bow to our ancestors, and for that we use sake. I rediscovered sake during my college years in Boston. I watched a lot of Japanese dramas in my college years and there are always little izakaya in the stories and I would always think I want to go to a place like that. So I found such a place in Boston and started drinking mostly hot sake at first. But it’s during that time that I started to get into sake more seriously.

Q: What is the appeal of sake for you?

Lannie Ahn: I think it’s about “drinkablilty” and the purity and uniqueness of sake which is very different form other kinds of drinks. To me, there is not another drink that drinks so easily and also brings people together like sake does. Also, it’s not a hard liquor – that’s what I mean by “drinkability” – and the feeling drinking sake gives you is very unique, so that’s the appeal.

Izakaya Ten

Izakaya Ten

Q: You just expanded your sake list at Izakaya Ten. How did you put that expanded sake list together?

Lannie Ahn: This most recent list is ordered by the level of umami in the sake. We started with the very representational sakes in Japan and also here in the U.S., and then began filling the gaps of the different tastes mostly measured by umami and acidity. And, of course, based on the value in terms of the price. For example, I feel that just having the representational sakes wouldn’t fill those gaps in flavor profiles that we really needed for a well rounded sake list. And also, in the US, for a restaurant to have a good sake list, there is a lot of good sake here to choose from, so I had to taste a lot. We then go with what we think is best based on the tasting, thereof, to discover 3-4 kinds of same peers in each different umami and acidity categories. At final, we selected one in the peers factored in what we think gives the best value to the customer.

Q: How has sake been received here by your American customers?

Lannie Ahn: I think the reaction has been absolutely positive. Some customers come in ready to enjoy sake, but we also get some people who are beginners with sake and may be a bit hesitant to try it. So we explain to them about sake and they have a very happy experience. So not only are we promoting sake, but the customer’s reaction is really great after they taste it.

Izakaya Ten Mural

Izakaya Ten Mural

Q: Do you find you have to do a lot of sake education?

Lannie Ahn:Absolutely. Customers always say they have to write down the names of the sakes. They always ask, “What did I try last time? This time I want to try something different!” And when we explain about the technical side of sake, it becomes a lot more interesting for our customers. All the staff here knows about the sake production process, so we can share that too.

Q: Is there a sake on your list that you have a special connection to?
Lannie Ahn: Tamanohikari. It has the yamahai style that for me personally, I think has an interesting taste. At the sake expo, I had the chance to meet the President of the brewery here in New York. He was from Kyoto and a really friendly person and he sent us a lot of sake souvenirs. I got to know about their history, and not just about the Brewery itself but also Kyoto’s traditions. Oh and by the way, it became a number one seller by itself. One of the Tamanohikari sakes we have on the list is a yamahai. It’s been good to enjoy that taste. Customers really seem to enjoy the taste of that sake. Yes, the Tamanohikari Yamahai is the best seller in the 720ml size bottle.

Q: From your perspective what do you think the future of sake is in the US?
Lannie Ahn: I think as long as sake continues being imported to us, I believe sake will have great potential. Not just because the drink itself is so great but also because, with increasing accessibility to sake, more and more people will be able to try it and enjoy it. I think sake really has a great potential!


Lannie, a very sincere thank you for taking the time to talk to me about sake. I can tell you are passionate about sake and I’m excited for the future of Izakaya Ten! Please keep spreading the good word about sake!

Izakaya Ten
207 Tenth Avenue
between 22nd &23rd St.
New York, NY 10011
Tel 212.627.7777

Mon–Wed, 6 pm to 12 am
Thurs–Fri, 6 pm to 3 am
Sat, 5 pm to 3 am
Sun, 5 pm to 10:30 pm