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Sake Sommelier

Sake: Now A Part of American Culture

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Ms. Watanabe is a computer engineer turned bar owner,
whom you will often find having a blast along with her customers
in one of her two bars. Her passion for food inspires her to be creative with her menu.
Her customer’s favorites include Asian Guacamole, Tuna Soyroll, and Asian Chicken.

Satsko and Sake Bar Satsko , the brainchild of Ms. Satsko Watanabe’s, was one of the earlier places one could call a “sake bar” to appear in the city, one of the first places the sake bomb frenzy erupted, and is where today’s young, hip sake enthusiasts gather. In many ways the venue has been a pioneer in bringing sake to the attention of young adults in the East village, and the Lower East Side at her two locations where her sake tasting events draws a crowd of eager, young sake fans each week. She tells us those that have been with her from the beginning are now connoisseurs.

How did you get your start in the business of sake?
I’ve always loved sake, and food. It was my passion. But I didn’t take a plunge into this restaurant/bar world until recently because I knew it was a risky business and I had my daughter to support. Now that she is grown, I was free to take some risks. I’m glad I did because the first Satsko on 7th street was an instant hit. Back then, about six years ago, there weren’t too many places that were actually “sake bars”, and it was the time sake was just starting to gain a lot of attention here in the US. I was lucky that the timing was right.

What are your criteria in choosing what sakes to carry?
We have over 30 kinds of sake here, but the main thing for me is to cover as much variety, and not to lean towards any particular direction. So we have everything from junmai, daiginjo, nigori, seasonal sake, genshu, and so on, so that we can showcase the range of sakes out there. Plus, everyone has a different palette, so I try to have something for everyone.

Why do you think sake has gained so much popularity here in the US?
I think it’s because it’s a new field, and it’s something unusual. The American market wanted that at the time, and sake was that exotic new field, and it snowballed from there. I think it had this classy image, too. So many great non-Japanese restaurants serve sake now, and to a degree, this Japanese culture is becoming a part of the American culture.

What are some of the popular sakes among your customers?
I think Wakatake is probably the most popular. I can see why, it’s a very smooth sake. It goes down easy. Masumi’s Arabashiri is also a very popular one too.

What are some of the ways you’ve been promoting sake?
Some of the ways we have our customers try out different sake is through our Sake Tasting event we hold once a week. For our $35 menu, you can choose six different sakes that come with a fish, vegetable, and meat dish. For the $25 course you will not be able to choose your sake, but still, you will get to try 6 different sakes that are pre-selected.  During this event, we experiment not only with different sakes, but also with different temperatures. My customers have become very sophisticated sake drinkers. They know their sakes by name, and they know which sakes are good warm and which sakes are not. This was not the case six years ago, but the funny thing is that almost none of my customers are Japanese. I think young Americans these days, know more about sake than Japanese people. Now, I’m the one learning from my customers.

Do you have any tips for sake beginners?
I’d say, if you want to pair heavy, rich foods with sake, go with a junmai. The heaviness of the junmai will be able to hold up to those tastes. But if you are going for something like sashimi, sushi, or tartar, go with a daiginjo. The light, fragrant quality of this type of sake will allow you to enjoy these sensitive tastes more clearly. And if you want to learn more about sake, come to Satsko!

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Satsko’s signature cocktail, Saketini, is made with sake,
lychee juice, pomegranate juice and lychee fruit.
Subtle sweetness from lychee juice makes amazing balance with dry sake.

Satsko
245 Eldridge St. (bet. Houston & Stanton Sts.), New York, NY 10002
TEL: 212-358-7773
Sake Bar Satsko
202 E. 7th St. (bet. Avenues B & C), New York, NY 10003
TEL: 212-614-0933
www.satsko.com