The Best Sake in Manhattan

Posted by bmountain | Posted in Restaurants, Sake | Posted on 21-11-2009

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Sakagura Restuarant and Sake Bar

Sakagura Restuarant and Sake Bar

Sakagura restaurant is the reason I love saké.  This past week while attending the Ad Tech conference in New York I had a chance to take a couple of clients there.  Sakagura is located in midtown East in Manhattan and has over 500 sakés on the menu.  I’ve been going there for over five years and I have yet to be disappointed.  The saké is always mind blowing, the food superb, and the atmosphere feels like you’re in Tokyo.

Sakagura is the kind of place that you would never get to unless you knew about it.  On 43rd St between 2nd and 3rd there are nondescript office buildings, car rental agencies, parking lots and other typical mid-town Manhattan haunts.  In a town that has character in spades, midtown east is the exception, a culture vacuum.  In front of one of these apartment buildings is a little sign “Sakagura”.  You walk past a security guard who is usually asleep and wearing a dreaded Yankees hat.  I’ve always been tempted to switch with a Red Sox hat but never have one with me….  You go down a flight of stairs to the basement and down a corridor, and you get the feeling that you’re making a mistake.  It’s kind of dark and you begin to wonder if you’re going to leave with your watch and wallet.  Then you find the door and enter the restaurant, and it’s like an oasis.  Japanese perfection throughout, not a thing out of place from the woodwork to the plants.  Reservations are essential and even with one you usually have a wait as Sakagura is one of the best known high-end Japanese restaurants in the northeast.

The sommeillier for Sakagura is Ayuchi Momose and she knows her saké.  Momo tours Japan twice a year and visits select breweries to pick the sakés that Sakagura will stock that season.  Since I’ve been coming to Sakagura for many years Momo usually does a small tasting for me and my guests and we get to choose from her latest selections.  It’s a treat that I really look forward to.  Momo was leaving for Japan the next day for her fall tour but made time to run a mini-tasting for us.

Chicken Meatballs, Yumm.

Chicken Meatballs, Yumm.

The food is consistently good at Sakagura.  Sort of Japanese tapas if there is such a thing.  We started with the seaweed salad with is a melange of four types of seaweed with a soy dressing served on a bed of lettuce.  We also had the chicken meatballs, cod with soy, and shrimp balls covered with almonds.  I’m told this is very typical Japanese pub food but I’ve never had anything like it in Tokyo.

Momo started us out with a Urakasumi Hiyaoroshi.  The Urakasumi saké brewery was established over 280 years ago.  It is based in Shiogama, near the beautiful Matushima Bay in northeastern Japan. Urakasumi’s history dates back to the feudal lords of Japan who ordered its sacred saké to be offered to the gods of Shiogama Shrine in the feudal era. Hiyaoroshi is sake that is brewed during the coldest months of the year, usually February or early March.  Brewers feel this gives them the most control over the saké brewing process. Hiyaroshi saké is not pasturized at the time of bottling, and is shipped in September.  This roughly six month storage period over the summer allows the saké to mature moderately and develop a smooth and rounded balance.  Because they’re not pasteurized at bottling, Hiyaoroshi must be stored and shipped chilled.

Our Urakasumi Hiyaoroshi was extremely good.  The SMV was around +1.6 which is normally a bit sweeter than I normally prefer but this sake pulled it off.  On the palate it had a hint of sweetness but was very rich, you could taste the rice coming out with hints of caramel.  It’s a full bodied saké with nice balance.  For pairings it would go very well with grilled oily fish or hamachi or other sushi white fish.

The second saké was a Masumi Yumedono Daiginjo.  Miyasaka Brewery was founded in 1662 by Ihei Arimasa Miyasaka, the twelfth head of the Miyasaka family, who started a brewery at city of Kamisuwa, Nagano, Japan. The next 300 years were spent perfecting the refined saké “Masumi,” which today is highly regarded for its aroma, body, and rich taste. Miyasaka is one of the few breweries to have developed its own strain of high-quality yeast.

Translated, Miyasaka Masumi Yumedono means “Mansion of Dreams”, and it was a very enjoyable saké.  We tasted peach, melon and anise and it had a tremendous amount of depth.  This was an exceptional saké and went perfectly with our last course which was grilled chicken.

All in all a fantastic meal with some extraordinary saké.

211 East 43rd Street
(Between 2nd & 3rd Ave)
NY NY 10017

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