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Sake Sommelier

Sake: A Wine Lovers New Obsession

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Joshua, a graduate of the International Wine Center, uses his keen senses to come up with his original sake and food pairings as well as original cocktail recipes using shochu, such as the Shochu Gimlet and Hot Mugi tea with buckwheat honey and buckwheat shochu shown below.

Wined-Up Wine Bar in the flatiron district is known for their great, mellow ambiance and most importantly, their great selection of wine. Joshua Hakimi, the Wine Director of the bar and restaurant, who worked as a chef for more than 16 years, is the mastermind behind the great variety that now includes even sake on top of more than 150 wines on the list.  His diverse palate was no doubt, shaped through his diverse background that allows him to be more adventurous and open minded than most when it comes to food pairing. Here, his customers who trust him dearly, are willing to try any unusual combination he may suggest, like sake and cheese, and get a chance to explore the unique world of sake and non-Japanese food pairing.

How did your interest towards food and wine develop originally?
I come from a great food culture. My mother is a great cook, my grandmother was a great cook, so I grew up eating really well. I grew up mostly with my Persian family, and every meal was a big event. My interest in wine started to develop young through reading authors like Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I guess I was interested in the European life and culture, and that romanticized ex-patriot history.

What made you want to put sake on your list?
I just thought we should have it. I think sake goes very nicely with certain kinds of foods, and also, I thought with sake, customers could enjoy more unusual flavor combinations. For example, we serve tuna sashimi over crab rolls here which goes well with sake, cheese is great with sake, and some of the more complex sakes go with grilled meats. In fact, we have a cheese and sake sampler.  Cheese is very much a European thing so it’s like a meeting of the two cultures  and I think the flavor combination is very interesting. For me, it’s also about exposing people to different things. Many people come here to learn about wine, but sometimes they don’t want wine, so I would recommend sake, and people are very receptive to it.

I heard that some wine enthusiasts are not so receptive to pairing sake with non-Japanese food. Is that true?
Not at my place. To say that sake is only good with Japanese food would be discounting the whole beverage culture of Japan, so I can’t imagine that notion. Just because it’s not European, it doesn’t mean it’s not a valid beverage to consume with food in general. What’s great about living in a city like New York is that you have everything. You have Indian food, Chinese food, wines from different parts of the world, so the opportunity to mix and match is always there, but if you don’t try it you’ll never know.  I started serving shochu too, and people seem to be receptive to that as well.

How do you choose the sakes you put on your list?
I tried a lot of sake, and found it very daunting because there are just so many, so it took me some time to finally come up with the five sakes we have now, which I hope to expand on. I don’t know the styles, I don’t know the brands, and I don’t read Japanese, so the only way to judge sake for me, is by taste. I found that my taste was always gravitating towards the less expensive sakes because I seem to lean towards the simpler styles. Also the menu changes often here because it’s seasonal, and we buy what’s fresh, so I looked for a sake that’s fairly flexible in the profile and where it can go, and so that it’s compatible with the cheese and meat list that also changes a lot here.

What are the more popular ones?
One of the most popular items on our food menu is the Cast Iron Hanger Steak, and this actually goes really well with the kimoto style sake we have. In fact, when customers are here to eat, I almost always recommend either the kimoto style or the yamahai style sake from our list. My taste seems to lean towards the more traditional, the more viscous texture and taste in general. But our customers seem to really like the Kikusui Funaguchi Honjozo.

Do you have any tips for sake beginners?
I would say, try to taste different kinds of food or different kinds of cheese when you are trying sake, because with food you can truly appreciate the versatility of sake.

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Punch Restaurant & Wined Up Wine Bar
913 Broadway (bet. 20th & 21st Sts.)
New York, NY 10010
TEL: 212-673-6333
www.punchrestaurant.com