Omakase–or chef’s choice–usually only applies to sushi offerings at high-end Japanese spots. But SakaMai takes the concept to a brand-new level by moving it from the sushi bar to the sake bar, offering a cocktail omakase night that’s distinctive in this city.
The concept is simple: Take a seat at the bar and let head mixologist Shingo Gokan take you through a tantalizing tour of tastes with round after round of cocktails he creates for you on the spot. The drinks are paired with small bites from executive chef Takanori Akiyama, and the duo works together closely to create the menu. Just don’t expect to know what’s coming–the pair plays its hand close to the chest, says SakaMai owner and creative director Natalie Graham; even she usually doesn’t know what the duo has in mind until the day before the event.
Graham nabbed Gokan from cocktail bar Angel’s Share (where he was a pioneer in the city’s craft cocktail movement) by promising him he’s be able to do the cocktail omakase, which was a dream for the bartender. And Akiyama is a Japan native with a flare for putting a worldly spin on Japanese classics.
To avoid getting guests hammered by the fourth course, Gokan tries to make cocktails that are not too strong. But the what drinks lack in potency they make up for in presentation. Graham says the last time she attended one of these nights, there were some theatrics like fire-pouring in the dark, a smoke machine, dried fish spines on skewers, and fresh coconuts cracked with a mallet.
Cocktail omakase nights have been occasional occurrences since SakaMai opened at the beginning of the year, and they’ve begun to gain a cult following. And if you’ve never experienced one, now might be your chance. The restaurant is hosting two seatings tonight and tomorrow night: a longer session that starts at 9 p.m. and includes 10 courses for $160, and a shorter meal with fewer courses for $120 that begins at 6 p.m. We hear slots are still open for tonight’s 9 p.m. session, though the other three seatings are fully booked.
Cocktail omakase nights are just a tiny aspect of everything going on at SakaMai. To find out more, make sure to check out the profile of SakaMai in this week’s edition of the Village Voice.