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Saké Bar Hagi

sake_bar_sign.jpgThe phone in my office rang bright and early last week. It was Scott asking me “Did you see the Times?!?!” well, at that point in the morning I’m usually just staring down at my iced coffee, not the newspaper. Scott proceed to inform me that the coveted “$25.00 and under” food column in the times was indeed covering a sake bar. A NYC sake bar we’d never heard of.

sake_fridge.jpgNow that was news! Finding out about a new sake bar is akin to finding $50 bucks buried in the pocket of some jeans you haven’t worn in forever. It doesn’t happen often, but you sure are happy when it does. The bar in question was Sake bar Hagi (152 West 49th Street, lower level (212) 764-8549). The Times article talked about spaghetti with ketchup (yuk!) and no smoking allowed (duh!), but I knew the real story was sake!

Scott and I settled on a rainy night to head up to Times Square and try out Hagi. Now, Times Square is well known for it’s Family Friendly “theme” Mega-restaurants: ESPN Zone, Planet Hollywood, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. …Applebees. yikes! It’s enough to make any sane person run screaming. Could a taste of genuine Japanese izakaya really exist along side all this corporate artifice? We were about to go into the belly of the beast and find out.

sasaori_nama_chillin.jpgSeeing that Hagi was recently in the NYTimes, I wasn’t surprised that there was a wait for a table. We also arrived at prime time – around 8pm. (Things thinned out later in the night and they are open until 3am – every day!)

I didn’t mind the wait one bit, as their small entrance hallway was also home to their sake display refrigerator. The sign said clearly “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH” – not the most welcoming thing to see when you first step into a restaurant. but I understand. I wouldn’t want anyone manhandling my sake stash either.

So, I was obedient and didn’t ‘squeeze the charmin’ (aka touch the sake), but I did take a long look inside to get an idea of their offering. It was an interesting mix of old standbys and some stuff that was new to me too.

sasaori_bottle.jpgOnce we were seated, job #1 was picking a sake. The waitress was helpful and as soon as I displayed some knowledge about sake that went beyond “hot or cold”, she knew we were serious sake sippers. She disappeared for a second and returned to our table with 4 or 5 bottles of summer Nama from the sake stash fridge which she set up like a display on our table.

We chatted about each one and finally decided on something really unique and uniquely delicious.

sasaori_glass.jpgI ended up ordering a 500ml bottle of Otokoyama Sasaori (Junmai Nama Tokubetsu, Hokkaido Prefecture, SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.4).

As soon as Sasaori hit the table, I knew we had something unique. This sake is a bit of an enigma…

* It was a nama with a strong hints of tropical fruit in the nose and palate. I got banana and scott got Melon. A touch sweet, but well balanced.

* And, it was slightly cloudy – like a wisp of nigori.*And, it was a sparkling with a touch of draft carbonation.

*And, there was a solid 15% ALC under the hood to drive this Junmai. And all this in one bottle?

Donny_Marie.jpgIt made me think immediately of Donny and Marie. “I’m a little bit country… I’m a little bit rock’n’roll…”

A little bit of this and a little bit of that CAN add up to a real crowd pleaser.

Scott and I have tried to adopt the Japanese custom of always filling the glass of the other and never pouring for yourself. This works out sometimes, but I fear I may give poor Scott ‘sake elbow’ from pouring into my glass so much.

Let’s mark this one down as a pleasant surprise – both the venue and the sake. I still don’t like Times Square, but as long as Hagi stays ‘as is’ and doesn’t turn into the “Hagi-Disney© Japan-Experience® Bistro brought to you by Toyotaâ„¢”, I’ll be back again soon.