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Local Libations


Whether dolled up with bold fruit juices or served dry, clear and straight, there’s a brew for every weakness.

Visit our city’s authentic peddlers of this East Asian rice-based libation and get a crash course in sake science. “The way people think about drinking sake is a lot like the way people think about drinking wine,” says Akiko Tsuchiya, a Japan native who has co-owned Kazu’s Sushi and Asian Bistro on Siesta Drive with her chef husband, Kazu, for eight years. “Everyone prefers to have their wine a different way – dry or sweet – and it’s the same with sake.”

With an alcohol content of about 13 to 20 percent (take that, beer and wine!), sake is born during the rice fermentation process, and it is often served in small, porcelain carafes with accompanying shot glasses.

But restaurateurs like the Tsuchiyas are getting more creative with their pours. While some patrons still prefer a traditional order of Junmai Daiginjo – the highly polished, master-brewed zenith of quality sake – others might go for a posh Plum Passion or Mango Kiss cocktail. The latter beverages tend to bewitch female sippers, as the liquor content is camouflaged with fresh, sugary juices. Plus, these concoctions have the same type of trendy allure as blueberry mojitos and caramel martinis.

Blush wine lovers might lean toward sake in a cocktail form, for example, while merlot aficionados would likely take their sake dry and unembellished. “You really have to sample different types of sake and see what you like,” Akiko Tsuchiya says. “I always ask people what kind of wine they like, and that helps me figure out which type of sake to recommend. I can usually tell what they might be into, but you never know until you try.”

Rookies can delight in the Kazu’s sampler, which features a trio of dry sake shots. Jizake specialties include the aromatic Shirakawago, the extra dry Kagatobi, and the Taruzake, which is aged in cedar barrels. Pair your pick with a signature Zen Roll (white and spicy tunas, asparagus, avocado, daikon radish, crispy chips and salmon in a soy wrap). Post-sushi, it’s onto dessert shots like the Zen Garden with premium sake and green tea ice cream, or the Lychee Mist with lychee sake and lychee sherbet. “We love to introduce people to knew types of sushi and sake,” Akiko Tsuchiya says. “You always learn a lot about Japanese culture when you come in here.”

Such is the case at Taste of Asia on Siesta Key, where a glass of chilled HANA lychee sake and a plate of sliced persimmon is a cool, pre-beach refresher. Selina Lum co-owns the 6-year-old Laotian-Thai-Vietnamese restaurant with her husband, chef Lam Lum, and the two are championing their new, fruity pairings.

As diners on the Key grow more healthconscious, Selina Lum says it’s imperative to present light, airy alternatives on the drink menu. Translucent sake cocktails help wash down Taste of Asia’s low-calorie, no-carb spicy noodles and cauliflower rice. “We have some delicious sake here, and the flavored ones are so sweet, they’re my favorites,” Selina Lum says. “If you don’t like the taste of alcohol in the stronger, plain sakes, this is the way to go.”

At the Drunken Poet Café downtown, the lychee sake is as lip-smacking as the Fuji apple, raspberry and plum versions. Each liquid comes in a martini glass with a bent stem, along with a purple and white Thai orchid garnish on the rim. “We have the flavored sakes and the regular ones, and you can go expensive or cheap, so you don’t have to spent a lot of money,” says Oy Punyahotra, the owner of the 5-year-old restaurant. “The flavored ones are a tiny bit sweet, and for women, they’re quite popular. But the men prefer the dryer sakes, just like they prefer the dryer wines.”

A Drunken Poet Sake Cocktail with fresh pineapple and orange juices, grenadine and unflavored sake is a primo complement to the Sexy Woman Roll with shrimp and eel tempura. “You can make tons of fun mixed drinks with sake,” Punyahotra says. “The possibilities are endless, and we always like to try new things.”

Even a few shots of milky white Nigori – the strong, unfiltered sake that comes in a green glass bottle – tastes divine with the eatery’s curry-inside-a-coconut dish. J-Pan’s sake cocktails, also known as “saketinis,” come equipped with cute monikers like Pom Pom-Tini and Blue Crush. The second, azure-colored option is garnished with a mini purple umbrella, maraschino cherry and orange slice. Cherry Blossom Plum, Lorin Lychee and Fuji Apple are drool-inducing, too. But if you’re into the sake straight and narrow, you can always stick with a bottle of Ichishima Silk Deluxe Junmai Sake and dish out a round for your table. Chat with Daniel Dokko, owner of the 3-year-old restaurant in Sarasota’s Paradise Plaza, about his trademark volcano roll, and toast to innovative sushi and ambiance.

So, get the sake while it’s hot (or cold, rather), discover which variety tempts your chops, and enliven your spirits with a swig.

The Drunken Poet Café is located at 1572 Main St., Sarasota, 941-955-8404;

Kazu’s Sushi and Asian Bistro is located at 2063 Siesta Dr., Sarasota, 941-951-7778;

Taste of Asia is located at 5110 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota, 941-349-2742;

J-Pan is located at 3 Paradise Plaza, Sarasota, 941-954-5726;

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