By Vivien Tan
SakaMai founded in 2013 by Chef Takanori Akiyama and based on a love of Japanese cuisine and sake, this downtown restaurant continues to earn praise for its sophisticated, yet simple Japanese-inspired menu created to complement a vast (and ever-evolving) repertoire of carefully-selected sake and shochu offerings.
Chef Akiyama’s acclaimed menu expertly merges Western influences with traditional Japanese cuisine for a striking balance of authenticity and approachability.
Signature small plate offerings include the famed “Egg on Egg on Egg” featuring sea urchin, sturgeon caviar and scrambled egg; Uni Toast with anchovy butter, crème fraîche, bottarga, and parmigiano-reggiano; vegetable dishes such as the Cha Soba Salad with green tea soba noodles, nori and sesame-soy dressing; and larger plates, such as a Dry-Aged Duck Breast with kale sprouts and pickled garlic pureé; and Bone-In Strip Loin Steak with ponzu and wasabi-soy sauces.
Furthering its commitment to being one of the city’s premier sake bars, SakaMai is planning events with sake brewers and fully updating its sake offerings for spring 2017.
Developed by Chef Takanori Akiyama, the menu at SakaMai offers everything from uni and sushi to small vegetable dishes to larger plates such as dry-aged duck breast and bone-in strip loin steak. Perhaps most well- known for their Egg on Egg on Egg dish featuring sea urchin, sturgeon caviar, scrambled egg, other signature dishes include uni toast topped with anchovy butter, crème fraîche, bottarga, parmigiano-reggiano, kakuni sliders filled with braised muji fuji pork belly, and cha soba salad using green tea soba noodles, nori and sesame-soy dressing. The menu plays with traditional Japanese dishes while offering occasional nods to Western fare.
A sake lounge at heart, SakaMai boasts an expansive (and ever-evolving) sake and shochu collection, diverse cocktail list, and an array of Japanese whiskeys and beer.
The interiors of SakaMai are enclosed by rustic, exposed brick walls, endemic of the neighborhood within which the restaurant sits. Dark wooden tables are abutted by plush, leather chairs, ideal for a comforting mix of regal and relaxing. Small artistic accoutrements, like as large Japanese bowls and vintage-seeming brass lights and an air of warmth to the Lower East Side destination.
Sakamai means “saké rice.” The kanji characters translate to “drink and dance.”
MEET THE CHEF
Born into a family of sushi chefs in Miyazaki on the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu, Chef Akiyama’s culinary path was paved for him at birth. After attending culinary school in his hometown, he sharpened his skills at Serina in the renowned Roppongi district of Tokyo, learning the art of kaiseki cuisine. In 1995, Akiyama was invited to New York to serve as executive sous chef to Chef Hitoshi Kagawa at Oikawa Restaurant, then moved to Lan Restaurant where he served as Executive Chef and went on to create the menus at Forbidden City. Ultimately, Akiyama returned to Lan as Partner/Executive Chef, all the while developing a cult following among the New York food crowd who often refer to his style as Modern Japanese with a French twist.
Returning to Japan in 2010 to be with his family, Akiyama re- mastered traditional Japanese cooking in his homeland and reignited his passion for traditional Japanese cuisine. Armed with this spirit, he returned to New York to work as Executive Chef at Dieci in the East Village, and in 2013 joined SakaMai with the goal of creating a sophisticated, yet simple Japanese-inspired menu. His cuisine quickly gained praise for its ability to expertly merge Western influences with traditional Japanese cuisine, striking a unique balance of authenticity and approachability.
Clean aroma, rich body, and deep flavor. This barley Shochu is positioned at the top of the iichiko product range. It’s slightly pearled, low-temperature fermentation, and all-koji production, which uses barley koji only, means it can be enjoyed on the rocks, with cold water, or with hot water on winter days. Experience its supreme taste.
Fantastic grapey aromas followed by ripe plum, ripe apricot and confectionery raspberry form a powerful bouquet on the nose but once in the mouth it takes a more elegant and subtle turn. Subdued flavors of ripe pear and ripe apricot still make themselves seen before a very soft and delicate finish.
The lush greenery, refreshing breezes and pure cool water of Oita Prefecture provide a fitting setting for the distillery and brewery of Sanwa Shurui. Sanwa Shurui was started in 1958 when three companies merged. A fourth company joined the group the following year and this effectively brought four fermenttaion- related licenses under one roof. The company’s motto is always “Quality comes first.”