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Sake Sommelier

A Thousand People A Thousand Tastes – Takahiro Okada

A Thousand People A Thousand Tastes: The Nature Of Sake

As a boy growing up in Japan where his parents own a liquor shop, Mr. Takahiro Okada, the sake sommelier at En Japanese Brasserie, has had sake around him almost all his life. Helping out his parents’ liquor shop from a young age, his career in the sake world came naturally. Although he has a vast knowledge in the field, he rarely shares his personal favorites with his customers knowing that each person tastes sake differently. We asked him to take off his sommelier hat and share with us the sakes that stood out for him.

What are some of the sakes you have liked over the years?
I think there are two types of sake that people generally consider good. One is what we call tanrei karakuchi – the kind that Niigata produced a lot and that’s easy to drink. The other kind is the nigori type, the very rich, dense kind. My tastes have changed over the years and I think it will continue to, but when I was young, I preferred the latter type. I used to like hiyaoroshi, the kind of sake that is made in the cold winter months, pasteurized, stored six months and released in the fall giving it a rich but balanced taste. There is a hiyaoroshi by Miyozakura and when I was in my early 20’s I really liked this sake which got me into hiyaoroshi sakes for a while. It has a strong rice taste. These days I am really drawn to sakes that have the distinct koji aroma. It’s kind of like the smell of truffles or the smell of mushrooms in a way, but it’s very hard to describe. It floats atop the ginjo and daiginjo aromas enticing appetite.  The truffle-like smell floats atop the ginjo and daiginjo aromas enticing the appetite.

What are some particular sakes that caught your attention recently?

I like Jokigen, sake from Yamagata. I love the label too, but it’s very smooth, and easy to drink. I hesitate to say this because it’s not the best way to describe it, but it has a very subtle bitterness at the end that I like a lot. I also like Nanbubijin. The taste is different this year and I really like it more so than last year. I had a chance to talk to the brewers, and they told me they changed something in the filtering process. It’s a gentle taste that I find very nice.

How do you pair sake with food at En?
Unlike wine, sake taste does not have a very wide range. Everything on our menu here is  traditional Japanese food, so all sake pretty much goes well with the cuisine here. But one thing I can say is, sake is the almighty when it comes to Japanese dashi (broth). Beer and shochu relatively go with anything, but when it comes to the ultimate combination, there is nothing like sake with dashi made with bonito and konbu (seaweed). I think sushi, too. It just fits. So we do not put much focus on pairing here. What we do in turn is, we never serve sake in an ice bucket. We insist on putting the bottle right on the table and leaving it out. When the bottle is iced and the temperature gets too low, the flavor of the sake is muddied. We want our customers to enjoy the flavors of each sake to its fullest by allowing it to unfold its many flavors as it gradually warms to room temperature. It’s the best way to enjoy it.

What tips can you offer a beginner?
I think that when it comes to tasting sake, some people are definitely more “talented” then others, and standards are set by the more so called “talented” people, but the important thing is not to get discouraged if you don’t agree with them. Every person experiences taste in their own individual way, so there is no right or wrong. Trust your own taste buds.
En Japanese Brasserie
435 Hudson St., (bet. Leroy & Morton Sts.),
New York, NY 10014
TEL: 212-647-9196 / www.enjb.com