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Sake Sommelier

Sake Pairing with Multiple Palate

Justin and Adan’s knowledge of both sake and wine makes Japonais a happy place
for the sake beginners and connoissoirs alike. Their excellent food pairing advice
brings out the best of both worlds allowing customers to truly appreciate the versatility of the beverage.

Since 2006, the Japanese-French fusion restaurant Japonais has been entertaining the city with its extravagant interiors, innovative cuisine, and great selections of beverages. Their multi-cultural concept draws a diverse clientele of people from all backgrounds. According to Justin Park, the sake sommelier, and Adan Esquivias, Bar Manager at Japonais, their signature cocktails Geisha, and Saketini that incorporate sake are all the rage among their customers.

How did you get your start in sake?
Justin: I’ve always liked sake and wine, so I took some wine and sake courses, and that’s how I got started. It took me about 6-7 years to become a sake sommelier.
Adan: I started my interest in sake the same way Justin did. Then I started to work at a Japanese restaurant where they had about 40 different kinds of sake, and the sake sommelier there was extremely knowledgeable, and I learned a lot from him, in addition to attending biweekly classes and sake seminars.

Was there anything in particular that intrigued you about sake?
Justin: I found the whole rice polishing process interesting. For example, the sake made with 70% or 75% seimaibuai (ratio of remaining grain after polishing) transforms into a very fragrant sake, which is great with French food. I also think for foods like sushi, sashimi, or in Korean food, yukke, or something like steak tartar even, sake just seems to be a better fit.

What do you do differently here?
Justin: Well, here at Japonais paring is a big focus. Not only sake, but everything you order, whether it’s wine or cocktail, food that is paired with it is very important to us, so we always try to serve a side dish that matches that beverage. For example, we have a sake called Mizunoshirabe which is a delicate sake. We would pair this with, for example, our signature ceviche topped with a hint of yuzu, which also makes the dish very delicate.
Adan: At Japonais, we have a very diverse clientele from American to French to Japanese, so we try to have a little bit of everything.  When it comes to sake and wine, everyone has a different palate. So what we try to do is, if a customer is in the mood for sake, then we try to create a sake platter, or if they want wine, we create a wine platter, but whatever we do, we definitely try to create the best pairing experience for our customers.

Do you have any recommendations on pairing food with sake from your menu?
Justin: Here we have a special dish called Lobster Teriyaki which is spicy. Something like this requires, high alcohol content, so something like Minowamon, or Wakatake, which are heavier sakes are preferred, if you’re Korean like me, because they go better with spicy foods. But the lighter kinds that are more smooth like Sasaichi and Mizunoshirabe are better with exotic foods like tuna ceviche or here we have a dish called Hawaiian Hamachi (yellow tail with tobiko, hot soy oil). Some of our customers like the nigori paired with The Rock, which is New York strip steak cooked on a hot rock presentation. The smokey flavor this creates goes very well with the creamy taste of nigori, and that’s why many Koreans like nigori-zake. But at the same time, nigori also goes well with Japanese pumpkin which is creamy, and even something like pineapple mousse, so nigori can also be paired with desserts.

What advice would you have for sake beginners?
Adan: If you want to develop your palate, my advice is to go to as many different restaurants as possible and have sake at different places with different foods, because every restaurant has different sakes, you teach your palate. There’s really nothing else. You can read about it, but the bottom line is you have to drink it to teach your palate.
Justin: I still see people who are looking for hot sake. I personally don’t recommend hot sake because not all restaurants know how to heat up sake. Many tend to heat it up in the microwave, killing the flavor. Since it’s getting warmer outside, I definitely say stick with chilled sake.


111 E. 18th St. (bet. Irving Place & Park Ave.), New York, NY 10003
TEL: 212-260-2020 /