Travel + Leisure
May 07, 2009

Now that sake is a staple at more and more restaurants and bars around the globe, it's a good time to learn about the mysterious Japanese rice wine. To get a jump start, T+L asked sommelier Hiromi Iuchi of New York's Sake Service Institute to give us a few tips.

1. Cool it. High-quality sake made from polished rice grains (categorized as daiginjo and ginjo) is best served cold. Heat can dull subtle aromas.

2. Fresh is better. Unlike wine, sake is not supposed to be aged. If it's slightly cloudy, it has been recently filtered.

3. Prepare to pair. Match fruity, delicate daiginjo and ginjo to lighter dishes. Less expensive sake, or junmai, is fuller-bodied and stands up to heavy sauces.That's often what will be served hot.

4. Lose the bamboo. You wouldn't pour Bordeaux into a wooden box, so don't drink your sake out of one, either. A thin-rimmed glass works best.

5. Sip it like wine. Swirl the sake in the glass, smell it, then swish it in your mouth to appreciate the taste.

6. Drink up. You'll learn more about sake only by sampling different types. Here, a few of our favorite sources in the United States:
• Chibitini 63 Clinton St., New York; 212/674-7300.
• Mirai Sushi 2020 W. Division St., Chicago; 773/862-8500.
• Anzu 222 Mason St., San Francisco; 415/394-1100.
—Maile Carpenter

Mirai Sushi

Set in Wicker Park, this Japanese restaurant is known for its pricey but high-quality sushi. Patrons recommend dining on the candlelit outside patio or the upstairs lounge, a smaller, quieter space than its downstairs counterpart. However, sushi enthusiasts prefer to sit at the wraparound bar to watch the chefs at work crafting couture rolls like the spicy mono, an octopus roll topped with tuna and sweet unagi sauce. The sushi rolls are served one by one as they are prepared, creating a tapas-like experience that also includes a detailed explanation of every dish.

Chibitini

Anzu

Located on the second floor of the upscale Hotel Nikko, Anzu has the typical hotel restaurant atmosphere: white tablecloths paired with neutral-colored furnishings and low lighting. More unique than the decor, the menu is Asian fusion meets continental with dishes like rack of lamb with Chinese mustard jus. Regulars rave about the appetizer known as The Rock, a Waguy beef coulotte cooked at the table on a Japanese river stone, served with spicy Korean sauce, kizami wasabi mustard, and cilantro pesto. There’s also a full sushi menu and a Sunday brunch that includes everything from pancakes to oven-roasted mahi mahi. 

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