NYC’s love affair with ramen joints seems to have opened up the floodgates for sake bars, with traditional places like Yopparai and Shigure as well as flashy spots like Cherry opening in the last few months. But if there’s one that could very well change most New Yorkers’ relationship to sake—that is, as a beverage drunk only with Japanese food—it’s SakaMai. The long, narrow space was intentionally designed to only hint at the sake focus. “We want people to feel welcome, to come here like they would any wine bar,” says Yasuyuki Suzuki, a sake sommelier who’s honed his craft at Kumo in LA and NYC’s 15 East. He follows through on that desire by keeping his list broad but not overwhelming, kicking it off with flights that explore sake by brewery or style and are particularly suited to the season. On a cold night, a trio of Nama Genshus—draft and cask-strength sakes, or Atsu-Kan (warmed sakes)—quickly take off the chill; so does the food, a series of creative plates by chef Takanori Akiyama that echo the space in their sleek, nationless composition. Crisp batter-fried shishito peppers would be at home in any restaurant; a small cup of fresh mozzarella, uni, olive oil and yuzu is delightfully confounding, refusing, like the space, to be pigeon-holed in any one cuisine. Take a seat in the dining room, or sink into a plush chair by the fireplace in the lounge; if you have a large party, reserve the sky-lit table in the loft. At SakaMai, you can have your sake any way you want—and until 3 a.m.
157 Ludlow St., New York, NY
This story appears in the print issue of April 2013.
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