Monday, July 8, 2019

Kamakura & Kumo Sky Bar: A Passion For Japanese Drinks

Chilled Sake, Warm Sake, Shochu, Japanese Koshu wine, Japanese Whiskey, Japanese beer, Japanese-inspired cocktails. There are very few local restaurants or bars which offer nearly all of these choices, and only one place that offers all of them.

That restaurant is Kamakura, located at 150 State Street in Boston. Chef Youji Iwakura has created a compelling Japanese restaurant, offering his take on Kaiseki (basically a seasonal tasting menu) as well as a la carte choices, Bento Boxes, Sushi Omakase, and more. Dining there is a superb experience with some of the finest Japanese cuisine available in the area. The restaurant is spread out over three stories, with the top story being their Kumo Sky Bar & Lounge.

I recently attended a media cocktail party at their Kumo Sky Bar, though I have also visited the bar previously on my own. The bar has about 26 seats, with several seats looking out into the city, a number of seats at the bar, and a number of small tables. This bar has a 400-square foot, retractable glass roof, which should get plenty of use this summer, and presents quite a great view during both day and night. "Kumo" is the Japanese word for "cloud," and with its retractable roof, you certainly get a nice view of the clouds when they are in the sky,

It is an intimate room, and can be booked for special events. It is also a great place to just grab a drink and a snack any night.

The Drinks program at Kamakura, which is available throughout the restaurant including the Kumo Sky Bar, is strong on Japanese beverages, offering much that is delicious, interesting and unique. This is a great place to expand your palate, to sample exciting new drinks you know little about. The staff at Kamakura can help educate you about these drinks, and provide plenty of suggestions for you. And for those who are already familiar with these Japanese drinks, you'll find some more unique items to thrill your palate.

They have a list of ten Featured Cocktails, priced $13-$18, with one outlier at $34. The cocktails change seasonally and all have a Japanese aspect to them, whether it is the main spirit or one of the ingredients. A few of the cocktails include the John Manjiro (Iwai Whisky, Choya, Cherry, $14), Murasaki (Empress 1908 Gin, Sake, Floral Vermouth, $16) and Shoyu What I Got (Blanco Tequila, Mezcal, Choya, Sea Fennel, Aged Shoyu, Orange Bitters, $14). Aged shoyu? How many cocktails have you ever seen that use soy sauce as an ingredient? Choya is Japanese plum wine. I like the innovativeness of these cocktails. Most of the media at the cocktail party ordered cocktails, and I heard many compliments about their taste.

If you'd prefer a Non-Alcoholic Cocktail, they have three choices, all priced $10 each. You could opt for a Matcha Tonic (Matcha, Simple Syrup, Tonic Water), Cucumber Rickey (Fresh Cucumber Juice, Lime, Spritz), or a Lychee Collins (Lychee syrup, Soda, Citrus).

Of course they have a Sake menu, both by the glass and by the bottle. There are about 15 selections by the glass, broken down into two main categories: Junmai and Honjozo, the primary divisions of Premium Sake. There is also a single American-produced Sake. The Sake by the glass is available as a 4 ounce ($11-$35) or 6 ounce ($16-$52) pour. They also offer Junmai and Honjozo flights, each with 3 Sakes, for $38, which is an excellent way to sample a variety of Sakes. A few of the interesting Sakes I'd recommend include the Yuho Junmai Kimoto, Katsuyama Ken Junmai Ginjo, and Musashino Nyukon Tokubetsu Honjozo. You'll also find one Sake on tap, the Bushido Ginjo Genshu, 4-oz $12/6-oz $18, which I've enjoyed on a previous visit.

There are about 21 options for Sake by the Bottle, which come in various sizes such as 300ml, 500ml, and 720ml. About 60% of the options cost less than $100 a bottle, though you could splurge as well on the Hideyoshi "Flying Pegasus" Daiginjo at $560/720ml. You could opt to celebrate with some Sparkling Sake, such as the Dassai Sparkling Junmai Nigori ($62/360ml), which is one of my favorite Sparkling Sakes. The Hakkaisan Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo ($140/720ml) is a hedonistic pleasure I've previously reviewed.

A couple months ago, I recommended that people drink more Warm Sake, and Kamakura is a great place to experience it. They have 5 choices of Warm Sake, available in 5 ounce ($14-32) or 10 ounce ($28-$64) chirori, metal vessels. They serve the Sakes at what they suggest as the ideal temperature, from 104 to 113 degrees, but you can ask for a specific temperature if you so desire.

Of their five options, my favorite is the Shinkame "Holy Turtle" Tokubetsu Junmai, 2 year aged (5 oz $20/10 oz $40). Yoshimasa Ogawahara is the 7th generation owner of Shinkame Shuzoa Sake brewery located in the Saitama Prefecture. I have the privilege to meet and interview him back in 2014. He told me that Sake is the only alcohol in the world where the taste varies according to a wide variety of temperatures, both hot and cold. He also stated that warm Sake pairs well with a diversity of cuisines and not just Japanese. During the cocktail party, I once again enjoyed some of the warm Shinkame and highly recommend it as an experience more people should try.

Kamakura has a small Wine List, with about 12 options, including 10 available by the glass ($12-$22). The options include 3 Sparkling Wines (all French), 4 Whites, 1 Rosé, and 4 Reds. Of the 12 wines, 7 are from France, 2 from California, 1 from Germany, 1 from Washington, and 1 from Japan. The wines aren't the usual suspects, and present some interesting and classic choices, from German Riesling to French Rhone wines.

What is unique though is that they carry a Japanese wine, the 2017 Chateau Mercian Yamanashi Koshu (glass $19/ bottle $76), and they are the only restaurant in Massachusetts to carry this wine. Nine years ago, I attended a tasting of Japanese Koshu wines at Uni, and that was also the first time I met Chef Youji Iwakura. You can read my previous article for more information about the Koshu grape. This was an excellent summer wine, with plenty of acidity, bright citrus and peach notes, a streak of mineralogy, and a pleasing and fairly lengthy finish. There was a mild richness to the wine as well as a touch of salinity. This would pair great with seafood, including raw oysters. Highly recommended!

Their Beer list is also small, with a rotating selection of Draft Beer, including the Lamplighter ($9).  By the bottle/can, they have 3 Japanese beers, including the Orion ($8), Koshihikari ($11), and Ginga-Kogen ($16).

Check out their list of Featured Spirits which includes some local options, like Bully Boy (vodka, gin and rum) as well as Japanese Gin (Nikka Coffey and Ki No Bi Kyoto), which is the hot new alcohol coming out of Japan. They also have about 10 Japanese Whiskies, and you can order a Flight of 3 for $35. I enjoyed a glass of the Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt, a fine sipping whiskey with fruity notes, a hint of smoke, subtle spice notes, and a noticeable influence of Sherry.

Kamakura also has a menu of Shochu, a distilled Japanese alcohol, with 6 options and you can order a Flight of 3 for $18. Most of their Shochu selections are made from sweet potato, which is often considered to be the ingredients that makes the best Shochu. My favorite on their list is the Tenshi no Yuwaku, 8 Year ($21), made from 83% Sweet Potato and 17% Rice. It was fermented in Sherry casks for about 8 years, which is rare as few Shochu are ever aged this long. It's name translates as "Angel's Temptation," a reference to the Angel's Share, the amount of spirit that evaporates over time while it ages in a barrel. I enjoyed it neat, finding it rich, creamy and smooth, with intense Sherry notes, hints of sweetness, and plenty of complexity. This is the first time I've seen this Shochu available in a Massachusetts restaurant. Highly recommended!

To sample what Kamakura has to offer, rather than opting for the multi-course Kaiseki dinner, you can always check out the Kumo Sky Bar to have drinks and small plates. You'll have a great view of the city while enjoying a large variety of Japanese drinks. Be adventurous and try some Japanese Koshu wine, aged Shochu, warm Sake, or a premium chilled Sake.

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