There’s never been a better time to enjoy sake in New York City.
It’s fair to say that many New Yorkers’ opinions on sake have been formulated from all you can eat sushi deals where sake is served in small tokurri glasses. But with better products and education, this has begun to change with residents slowly beginning to sip and savor, exploring the aromas and taste to discover that people like different varieties of sake for a reason.
Sake is referred to as a Japanese rice wine, with a shortlist of core ingredients: water, rice, yeast, and koji mold, it’s fair to wonder how much room there is for nuance between brews.
The answer to that is, well, a lot.
As with all alcohol producers – sake brewers creativity put the rest of us to shame in their mission to create new tastes. Styles vary from Genshu (undiluted) to Taru sake (aged in a cedar barrel), to Kimoto (and intensive mixing and aerating technique) just to name a few.
As New Yorkers educate themselves on sake, the drink has expanded and quality sake is served throughout the city. Here are some spots to hit for a primer on the iconic Japanese beverage.
Decibel has remained firmly planted in New York as the sake authority for decades proving its endurance and appeal. Sake bottles line the walls like trophies and the variety of sake choices is almost overwhelming. Decibel remains unique in that the focus is entirely on the drink. With Graffiti colored walls, dim lighting, a small space, and a small food menu – the message is clear, Decibel is a place for sake drinking.
While its selection is impressive, the defining feature of Decibel is the quality and care of the staff. The place is filled with sake lovers, and they love to spread that affection. The time and care put into helping you understand and find the sake that would taste best for you is impressive and there’s simply no better way to learn.
240 E 9th St, New York, NY, 10003; www.sakebardecibel.com
The only thing that rivals the sake selection at Sakamai is the extensive menu helmed by Chef Akiyama. The dishes maintain an authentic Japanese feel with a seafood focus and offer several tasting menus to explore with. The restaurant has an elevated feel selling itself more as a lounge than a dine and dash location for good food.
The Sake menu itself is expansive but makes itself approachable with a descriptive menu that lets you find your flavor quickly. The staff can provide quick and easy recommendations especially when it comes to pairings with the dishes. If you feel like graduating to their cocktail list, many of the offerings work with sake, sochu, or Japanese whiskeys to come up with unique flavors you can’t find elsewhere.
157 Ludlow St, New York, NY, 10002; www.sakamai.com
While Tao’s reputation as a hotspot of NYC nightlife might give the idea that it is not suited for an educational tasting, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The restaurant prides itself on its fusion of Asian culture and on its ability to enthuse you in it. As a result, the sake menu is expansive and complete with a wide variety of styles, tasting flights, and even an original taste categorization designed by beverage director Keith Nelson that lets you discover where your palette lies.
Drinking your way through the Earth, Tranquil, and Spirit sections lets you discover the nuance in aroma, taste, and texture and the vernacular to match the sensation. Tao may be best known for its nightlife and grandeur, but it can safely add the status of a sake hotspot to its list of titles.
92 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011; www.taodowntown.com
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