It is amazing anyone can find Sakagura, hidden in the basement of a midtown Manhattan office building with barely a sign to point the way. But for 10 years, a steady crowd has flocked to this restaurant, lured not only by its Japanese inn setting and its food, but also by its impressive selection of 200 sakes.
As Hisaya Kadoi, the manager and sake expert responsible for the selection, points out, premium sake gets its individuality from Yamada Nishiki rice, pure water and special yeast, as well as from the area in which it is made (Kanto or Hokkaido, among other locations). Among terms often found on premium sake labels are ginjo, which means the rice was milled to 60 percent of its original size, and junmai, which refers to sake brewed without additives. Rarely found on a sake label is a vintage date. Whether it is served hot or cold depends on the individual sake.
“About 100 of our sakes can be heated,” Kadoi said. “The rest are too delicate to heat. While some sake has 20 percent alcohol, ours go no higher than 18 percent.”
The first sake I tasted, the extraordinary Otokoyama Dai Ginjo ($29 per glass), was silky and medium dry, its aroma reminiscent of green apple and melon.
Next was Yusura Junmai Ginjo ($14 per glass), which was fresh, fuller-bodied and satiny, with a whiff of melon and yeast.
The third was Ryusei Tokubetsu Junmai ($9 per glass). Tokubetsu is a special, pure rice — and the purer the rice, the more body the sake has. This one was indeed full, dry and rich.
Tentaka Ginsho ($33 a glass) was sensuous, smooth, elegant — a super-premium sake.
I went on to Daruma-Masamune ($35 per glass), an aged sake that blends four vintages, the oldest being 1972. It was liquid velvet the color
of cognac, with a hint of caramel.
We finished with Tokimeki ($28 per 300-milliliter bottle) — sweet, light and sparkling, with 8 percent alcohol — a lure for Japanese youth who are drinking less sake. A delightful introduction, yes, but wait until the young discover the real thing.
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