Excellent Sake Bar
- David Brail
Stumbled upon an outstanding, basement level Sake bar on E9th Street, between 2nd and 3rd. The street is host to numerous Japanese restaurants, and this one is a little tough to find - you descend a flight of metal exterior stairs and have to ring the bell - its marked at street level by a small wooden sign that says, as you might expect "Sake Bar".
I am no Sake connosieur, and a menu of 100+ skaes can be intimidating, but the staff is happy to help. We ended up with an interesting flight of Sakes, some fresh and wonderful endaname, and a bowl of crisp pickled garlic cloves.
Its a very lively place, with a fun crowd.
David--that's Decibel sake bar, which I reviewed in NY Press many many years ago. It's WAY fun (especially if you hang at the cozy bar up front).
For a more grown up, swanky vibe and MUCH MUCH better food (the grub at Decibel is strictly Japanese bachelor toaster oven snacks...you did the best possible order with edamame and garlic), hit Saka Gura, a hidden sake bar that's related to Decibel, in the basement of an office building on 43rd street (211 East 43 Street (between 2nd and 3rd 953-SAKE). It's one of my favorite hangs/bites in NY, bar none. No longer unknown (though I think I was the first to write about it...Decibel, too, for that matter), but very seriously underrated. A major oasis.
re: Jim Leff
My wife and I were at Sakagura last night! Your are on the money, the food is as good as ever. We had edamame, hamachi sashimi, toro w/ponzu, chicken wings with lotus root, chilled tofu with bonito flake and scallion, and a few other things. Last time I was there they had two different uni dishes on the specials menu that were both sweet, creamy and exquisite. I've been to this place at least ten times (I work for a Japanese Bank), but each time I go back I'm further amazed at 1)the quality of the food, 2)the INCREDIBLE professionalism of the staff 3)the knowledge of the sake-men behind the bar, 4) the detail in that novel-size menu and 5) the shock you get after descending that ratty staircase when you enter into the cool, artfully decorated interior.
We should probably warn people that while Decibel is a punky East Village sake bar that is not cheap, but basically affordable, Sakagura is a SERIOUS place. If you're going to sample heavily and snack to fulfillment, you WILL pay for the privledge. A night there will run at least $100/head unless you pay attention and stick to the bottom-rung sake and food.
But go to both, even if just for two drinks. They're great!
Shhh. I'm hoping that even though I put this place in my book that people will continue to overlook it. This way I can help maintain the tranquility of one of my favorite urban oases.
Maybe I won't even correct your inflated price figures; they might scare away customers.
The place is a miracle.
re: Jim Leff
I think the reason I break the bank every time is that I get so into trying so many different sakes that I go for 1 or 2 tasting samplers. They're around ~$30 an order and then you start getting full masus of the ones you like and then you gotta have more of that wonderful fish with them and .....DOH! I'M IN TRIPLE DIGITS AGAIN!
Ahhhhh, but it's so worth it.
re: Jim Leff
Sakagura was a real surprise. After making our way last friday down into the dank dungeon and through an unassuming door we stepped into a beautiful modern, quiet and classy space. Nice music, loud enough to hear but quiet enough for conversation. Attentive service, great and unusual food, not the normal dishes but instead small bites to help display the taste of the various sakes... or was it the other way around? We had toro tataki, toro with miso, squid with wasabi, beef sashimi (which was like a seared and marinated carpachio-amazingly tasty- just enough spice to bring out the flavor of the raw beef)and many more dishes. Three sake menus confused me at first until I understood the legend, then I was able to start making semi-informed decisions... for awhile... Well 4 hours, 14 sakes, 7 appetizers/entrees, and lots of amusing conversation later my friend and I rolled out the door very satisfied if somewhat poorer. ($175 inc tip- not bad at all for what we enjoyed)For the first time I had a large enough selection of quality sakes to learn what they are about. One interesting thing was that at first I was unable to find the restrooms... but upon asking I was pointed in the direction of two ENORMOUS barrels, ten feet high and wide. Inside was one of the nicest accomadations I have seen in a while. A zen like space artfully arranged with flowers... but with a bit too much perfume piped in. I wish that the wait staff had been more knowledgeable about the sake but I am sure if you sit at the bar you would learn more. The main sake menu was a six page book. I asked several times to have a copy to take home so I could do research and educate myself but to no avail. Each request was met with a barely polite NO. So I immediately went home and logged on to amazon to order books on sake. A few days later, armed with a little knowledge, I went over the GWB to Yaohan Plaza, 595 River Rd in Edgewater just south of Fort Lee (get off first exit in jersey and head for the river, when you get as far east as you can then head south and it will turn into river rd)I went shopping at Yaohan/Masawara (? may have mispelled) Japanese supermarket... a huge place with about 100 sakes available, as well as great beers and food including candy, desserts, hot food, sushi/sashimi, etc. I walked around, books in hand, and invested in a dozen bottles of sake. Whew were some of them pricey... and a whole new world has opened for me... and quality sake doesn't get you hungover! Even if you go overboard...
So if you want to try what REAL sake is like... cold sake not the hot, boring, rancid stuff, (which I USED to Love)go to Sakagura for a relaxing and refreshing bar/restaurant experience or to Yaohan for shopping.