A Seminal Dining Experience
On East 43rd Street, in the basement of an office building, hides Sakagura, perhaps the best sake bar izakaya in NYC. Their sake selection is unrivaled. They give you a looseleaf bound list of sake to choose from the way Veritas and Cru(RIP) used to, in better economic times, flaunt their voluminous wine lists. After choosing my favorite, Wakatake, which translates as "demon slayer", I focus on the izakaya (pub) menu. I start with tamago onsen, a cold poached egg served in a delicious cold dashi (broth)with ikura (salmon roe) and uni (sea urchin gonads). Other dishes included a cucumber anago (eel) salad, some braised pork belly and roast duck negimaki style, wrapped around scallions. But the highlight of the meal was the seasonal special of lightly grilled (yaki) shirako. Even Japanese will tell you that shirako is an "acquired taste". But so was all sushi at one time an acquired taste in this country. The shirako was translated on the menu politely as cod milt. Now that sea urchin(uni) has become one of the most popular ingredients in the U.S., having crossed over to American, Spanish and Italian cuisine (uni risotto or uni panacotta, anyone?), it's time that shirako got it's moment in the sun. Shirako, the milt or gonads or testicles or sperm sacs of the cod or other fish, are truly a seminal (get it?) dining experience. Like little brains in terms of both appearance and texture (I also love brains or cervelles served in a beurre noir sauce), shirako can be served grilled, tempura style (lightly battered and fried) while some people have the balls to eat it raw. Sushi aficionados (afishionados?) and gourmets of every cuisine have no problem with eating female fish roe or caviar. But those same folks often cringe like they've been kicked beneath the belt when the subject of eating testicles is raised. Uni is often misclassified as roe but fans should know that half of the uni they're consuming are from the males, in other words, the sperm sacs. As I happily ate my shirako being careful not to let any of the creamy white semen drip onto my ikura lest it result in fertilization and an unwanted fish pregnancy, I could only look forward to that future day when people will undoubtedly embrace the delicacy of fish balls (not to be confused with gefilte fish which is truly an acquired taste).
211 East 43rd Street, New York, NY 10017
Some friends took us to Sakagura several years ago. It's been one of my favorite places ever since. It's such a gem and yet most people have never heard of it. I've never had the shirako but may have to try it. I've never had anything bad there. On a recent visit the standout was the grilled black cod - the best fish I've had anywhere in a long time. We also really enjoyed the duck wrapped around scallions and the fluke sashimi. But even though the food and sake are terrific the atmosphere is even better. Love this place.