A few years back, I visited True Saké in San Francisco, the first all-Saké store in the U.S. I was mesmerized by all of the varieties and brands of Saké available. But I was disappointed that it was located so far from me. I fervently wished that such a Saké store would open on the East Coast, to cater to my Saké cravings. In the Boston area, it can be difficult to find Saké and even the best stores might only have 20 available, if even that.
Last December I was thus very excited to learn about Sakaya, a new all-Saké store opening in New York City. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to visit it. When I finally made it to New York City for a long weekend visit, I made sure that one of my destinations would be Sakaya. I did not have any Saké in my wine cellar so it was definitely time to restock.
If you check out the photo above, you can see the front window of Sakaya, though the glare from the sun did not help the photo at all. If you look closely, you can see a green ball of vegetation hanging there. That is a sugidama, a globe of tightly bound sugi ("Japanese cedar"). Sugidama are traditionally hung in front of Saké breweries when the first batch of Saké is pressed each year as well as outside of Saké bars and stores.
Sakaya is owned by Rick Smith, a former associate publisher at Food & Wine, and his wife, Hiroko Furukawa, and they bring a wealth of knowledge about Saké. They have studied under John Gauntner at his Professional Sake Course in Tokyo, visited Saké breweries, numerous izakaya, and Saké shops throughout Japan. The term "Sakaya" means a "Saké store" though more literally it can refer to any store that sells Saké.
Here are a few statements from their website that help describe Sakaya.
"Our credo is that saké is meant to be enjoyed and shared."
"Our dream? To share our excitement about premium saké with kindred spirits like you."
"Our aim is to offer a learning experience that not only creates an appreciation for and enjoyment of drinking saké, but also for the Japanese culture from which it originates."
For more information about Rick, Hiroko and Sakaya, you should check out their Interview on the UrbanSake blog. The store itself is a small rectangle with the two long walls containing cedar plank shelves for the Saké. They currently stock about 100 different Sakés and Shochu/Awamori. The store is minimally decorated, a simplicity that reminds me of Japanese haiku. Haiku has such a simple structure but can possess such complex imagery and power. Each Saké bottle has a small card describing it and either Rick or Hiroko can tell you even more if you want.
Upon my visit, only Hiroko was present so I missed the opportunity to meet Rick. Though I hope to meet him on a future visit to Sakaya. Below, you can see Hiroko at the register near the back of the store. The back of the store also has a refrigerated unit to keep some Saké chilled. I was quite impressed with the Saké selection, finding many I had not seen before in any Boston store. Sakaya stocks some more artisanal and rare Sakés. I easily bought a case, getting only one of any specific Saké as I wanted to try as many different ones as possible. I could have easily bought a couple more cases, just to try all of the ones I have never tasted before. Hiroko gave me some advice and suggestions on my selections which was very helpful.
In the end, I chose these Sakés:
Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri "Mirror of Truth" Junmai
Naraman Muroka Bin Hiire Junmai
Chiyomusubi Tokubetsu Junmai
Hiroki Tokubetsu Junmai
Denshin "Yuki" Junmai Ginjo
Kamoshibito Kuheiji (Red Label) Junmai Ginjo
Kokuryu "Gohyaku Mangoku" Black Dragon Junmai Ginjo
Tsukasabotan Fu-in Junmai Ginjo “King of Peony”
Sawanoi "Kiokejikomi Iroha" Junmai Kimoto
Akitabare Suirakuten Daiginjo “Heaven of Tipsy Delight”
Kamoshibito Kuheiji (Red Label) Junmai Ginjo
I don't have any real experience with Shochu, a Japanese distilled liquor. Supposedly, Shochu has become very popular in Japan, surpassing even that of Saké. So I have wanted to experiment, to try some Shochu and see what it is like. I asked Hiroko for a recommendation, an entry Shochu that was a bit milder and smoother. She recommend the Satsuma Hozan Imo Shochu so I bought a bottle and I can't wait to try it. Of course I will review of the Sakés and Shochu in the future.
Though I was unable to attend one of their Saké tastings, Sakaya has frequent tastings and you can find a schedule on their website They can even ship Saké to some states, though sadly Massachusetts is not one of them. Plus, you should check out their blog.
Sakaya is exactly what we needed on the East Coast, a Saké store with an incredible collection and run by two passionate individuals willing to share their love and knowledge of Saké with others. This is a place to go if you already love Saké and want to try different types and brands. It is also a place to go if you know little about Saké but are willing to learn and experiment. If I lived in NYC, I would be there every week.
I strongly recommend Sakaya and I will certainly visit them again in September when I return to NYC. I am sure my Saké will be gone by then so I will be in need of a restock.
324 East 9th Street
New York, NY