I've been advocating for an izakaya brunch in NYC since at least the summer of 2012 when Uminoie had a series of summer afternoon patio parties. I guess I've worn down the owners at SakaMai (157 Ludlow, LES), because they are now serving brunch 11:30-2:30 Saturday & Sunday.
Kagura no Mai, with its plain black and white label with abstract drawings of village life, doesn't shout from you off the shelf. Nor does is grab you out of the glass. It's light and clean with the forward aromas of sake yeast. This leads me to believe it's a low pressure distillate and that the distillery has chosen to use a traditional sake yeast rather than one of the more neutral shochu yeasts.
If you've tried other soba shochus, you're probably used to their lightly nutty aromas and flavors while still finding them light and easy drinking. Towari takes this in a completely different direction by using 100% soba. Most other soba shochus blend rice and even barley during the fermentation processes in order to smooth out the rich flavors of the buckwheat.
Buckwheat, or soba shochu, is not particularly common in Japan and even less so in the US with only three available currently. Unkai is the most affordable of these and at just around $15 a bottle retail in New York City it is one of the most affordable honkaku (authentic) shochus available anywhere. Don't let the low price tag fool you. Unkai is an interesting, flavorful, and enjoyable shochu.
Otafuku Noodle House is on a nondescript street in an average working class neighborhood in South Los Angeles. The only hint that it might be a good place to eat or drink comes from the smattering of other “authentic” Japanese landmarks in the area. There's another soba house on the corner, the Okinawa Association of America headquarters across the street (a grandiose title for a windowless single story building), and Marukai Pacific Market a few blocks away – a massive Japanese grocer.
Good friends of ours were kind enough to make Cioppino for us on our last night in LA. We repaid them with an impromptu shochu tasting from the bottles we had to leave behind.
Far left is Kagura Tensho, which we just reviewed. A nice, smooth soba, barley, and rice shochu.
Far right is an Awamori we reviewed last week, Shimauta.
Next to the Shimauta is my new favorie imo, Kurokame, our first 90+ point shochu.
But what’s that 4th bottle? It’s a mystery. Anyone know? We’ll reveal it soon.
What was the consensus? For our friends who are not familiar with shochu, they were struck by the complexity and variation in just 4 bottles of what is arguably the same spirit.… Read More “Private Shochu Tasting”