In our current drinks issue, Nancy Matsumoto chronicles the rise of rice in bars, restaurants and shops across the city. Yes, there was once a time when one could only find mass-produced and mediocre labels in sushi joints, but since the beverage took hold on a few city drink menus and garnered a following over the years, New Yorkers now have access to “extreme small-batch varieties.” We’re talking bottles from sake brewers who only make about 850 cases per year, or “a tiny drop in the bucket by winery standards” according to Matsumoto.
But where to go to taste for yourself? The East Village and Midtown, for starters. These two neighborhoods are home to some of the city’s first serious sake joints including Decibel, Sushi Tsushima and Hasaki. From there, venture towards to Union Square, Tribeca and even Brooklyn — Williamsburg has at least a couple of the city’s best sake-centric menus.
See below for a complete roundup of our listings. Curious about sake, but still feeling intimidated by this rice brew? Consult our sake guide, where you’ll learn the basics including different styles, how to best serve them and recommended food pairings. Don’t fret—there’s no need to run out and buy an (undeniably cute) sake set.
Have a favorite venue you’d like to include? Let us know by leaving a comment.
- 1 or 8, Williamsburg
At 1 or 8 in Williamsburg, Japanese chef Shinji Mizutani likes to offer a small taste of namazake before the meal. He’s placed a dozen sakes in three different sizes on his menu starting with two-ounce pours, which encourages diners to mix, match and learn.
- 15 East Restaurant, Union Square
Masato Shimizu doesn’t want to see you cry. Which is why, if you’re lucky enough to dine at Tocqueville’s sushi-sister 15 East, he’ll serve you freshly grated wasabi, about as far from the gummy paste served at American sushi restaurants as a Herve Mons Comte is from a pack of Kraft singles. If you need another reason to try the fresh stuff, consider the wonderful raw fish it goes with. (Read the story here.)
- Alder, East Village
Alder is an East Village restaurant by Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 fame. As at WD-50, Dufresne riffs on classic American foods, combining familiar flavors and ideas (“Pigs in a Blanket,” for example, are constructed from Chinese sausage, Japanese mustard and sweet chili sauce) with innovative and unusual preparations.
- Aquagrill, Soho
Aquagrill specializes in seafood and serves many seasonal specialties, as well as an extensive oyster selection and drinks menu.
- Cherry, Meatpacking District
The sake list at Cherry was curated by Chris Johnson, one of Manhattan’s hottest sake sommeliers. The bar has a Williamsburg cousin in Cherry Izakaya.
- Cherry Izakaya, Williamsburg
Sister bar to the Meatpacking District’s Cherry, Cherry Izakaya is inspired by 1970s Tokyo. Sake here comes with a runoff saucer, just in case.
- Empire Steak House, Midtown
Midtown’s Empire Steak House is home to an admirable sake list. Try a grilled steak with with an earthy Yamahai Junmai.
- EN Japanese Brasserie, West Village
Japanese-style tapas are the focus at this West Village favorite. A master sommelier is also on hand to guide diners through their extensive offering of sake and shochu.
- Hakkasan, Midtown
This 200-top Midtown dining room serves an extensive menu including dim sum, cheung fun and larger Asian-inspired entrées. They have a notable sake menu mostly composed of Junmais.
- Hasaki, East Village
Hasaki was the first sake bar opened in New York in 1984. Sake bars aplenty have opened since then, but Hasaki maintains a meticulously crafted selection.
- Kirakuya, Midtown
Kirakuya is a Midtown sake bar with a strong focus on Jizakes, or sake produced by Japan’s regional microbreweries. These bottles are known for their more unique, nuanced flavors as compared to mass-produced brews. They have dozens of bottles to choose from, including a Jizake selection that changes monthly.
- Momofuku Ssäm Bar, East Village
Ssäm Bar is one installment of David Chang’s Momofuku Empire. You can always find bottles of Singaporean classic Tiger Beer, but we recommend their innovative cocktails, sake list and raw bar.
- Sakagura, Midtown East
This Midtown East basement sake bar is designed to evoke a speakeasy vibe and cater to expat Japanese longing for a taste of their native prefecture. Upon opening, their sake library numbered about 100 bottles and has since grown to 250, the largest in the city.
- Sakaya, East Village
At Sakaya, the owners sing the gospel of premium sake seven days a week. The serene shop is a perfect pulpit: Created by restaurant designer Hiromi Tsuruta (Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Jewel Bako), it’s lined with cedar-plank shelves and a map of Japan, and stocks about 150 sake varieties from 30 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
- Sake Bar Decibel, East Village
It’s easy to miss but once you’re inside you’ll feel like you’ve entered a subterranean speakeasy somewhere in Japan. The lighting is dark, the sake list is long and the servers are all Japanese with painfully hip haircuts. There are over 100 choices on the menu, so get a recommendation from your server and a couple tasty snacks to soak up the alcohol. You’re gonna need it.
- Shigure, Tribeca
A spot-on pairing, whether with cheese or the many dashi-based dishes at Shigure, can be a revelatory experience. Takahiro Okada, manager of Shigure, is a veteran bartender who’s poured sake at Decibel, Sakagura and at a second-wave arrival on the scene, EN Japanese Brasserie in TriBeCa, which opened in 2004. He opened this TriBeCa izakaya in 2013, featuring a well-selected list of 40 to 50 sakes.
- Sushi Tsushima, Midtown East
Enjoy jizake at Sushi Tsushima’s cozy 12-seat bar in Midtown. Don’t forget to sample the sea urchin when it’s in season.
- The Good Fork, Red Hook
The Good Fork was built by a carpenter and his wife is the chef. Their menu is accessible but offers interesting global twists. We’d love to pair their white miso oxtail tagliatelle with a bottle from their sake selection.
- Tocqueville, Flatiron
In a farm-to-table, barnyard chic world, Tocqueville is all unapologetic elegance, from the white tablecloth-ed high-ceilinged dining room to the marble bar. Restaurateur Marco Moreira promoted Jason Lawless to chef to cuisine this year, and since then he’s been hard at work on menu offerings worthy of a fine dining temple like lavender-skewered Iclandic arctic char and English pea purée. Highlights include his winter game menu and housemade salumi. The bar program has received equal attention, and easily keeps up with the food offerings.