SakaMai - New Year’s, 2012, New York City
“What are you doing for New Year’s?” asked Doug.
It was New Year’s Eve and I didn’t have any plans yet. After being in NYC for 6 years, the whole counting down in a club with overpriced bottle service in a throng of sweaty strangers had lost its appeal. Back in 2008, Carson Daly had been a no-show to the official "Carson Daly and Friends NYE party" at $125/ticket (while I was still a temp making minimum wage) -- but I’m not bitter about that any more.
After refreshing my FB newsfeed, I saw that my friend Jessica had posted about the new spot she was working at in the LES called SakaMai, a Japanese Sake Lounge that served top-notch Japanese cuisine. With a special $50 NYE prix-fixe menu that included sauteed foie gras on top of beef tenderloin and a chilean sea bass filet, I didn't need much convincing.
Doug and I arrived at 7pm and were greeted by bottles of sake and beautiful orchids resting on a gorgeous bar.
After catching up for a few minutes and going over the menu, Jessica gave us a tour of the restaurant. Its minimalist decor welcomed us with a zen vibe. Translucent curtains adorned the long wooden benches and tables that laid against the brick wall.
The meal started with a delicious array of raw seafood: octopus, kumamoto oysters, and kampachi. The interplay of contrasting textures - slimy, juicy, firm, and fleshy - was a sign of great things to come.
When the oyster was placed on Doug's plate, a look of horror washed over his face. He had a 15 minute internal monologue before mustering up the courage to eat it.
The fried chicken confit followed, and it was packed with flavor. The crispy skin of the confit, tempered by the paprika tartare sauce, gave way to an intensely flavored bite. As a fan of the spicy mayo served at sushi joints and anything fried, this heavier dish was a hit for me.
I also love Chilean sea bass, and the next course did not disappoint. I've only had the Chilean sea bass prepared in the usual miso/sake marinade where the flavor is concentrated in the fish, so it was refreshing to try a steamed preparation where the flavor camouflaged itself in the mild chicken stock, not the fish itself. The subtle flavor of the fish lingered on your tongue long after swallowing.
The chef was consciously alternating dishes of subtle flavor with bold flavors. The truffle shoyu reduction of the next course was as bold as they come. Perfectly cooked tenderloin topped with generous lobes of sauteed foie gras that literally melted on top of the sizzling steak, its creamy juices becoming one with the tenderloin. Doug and I literally sat there, mouths agape, inhaling the pungent truffle-laced aroma. After taking my fifth picture from yet another angle, his patience thinned.
"Uhh...like how the steak is getting cold? Can we eat like now?"
We cleared that plate in five minutes flat and dug into our dessert, a silky smooth white chocolate mousse with strawberry compote-- the perfect foil to the heavy dish before it.
After finishing the last sip of my Kuchinachi, a base of lemon, grapefruit, and herb-soaked vodka topped with lychee liqueur made with nigori styled sake, we stumbled outside into the crisp wintry air.
We sat in a mostly empty theater and enjoyed "Silver Linings Playbook" starring Katniss Everdeen and the asshole villain from The Wedding Crashers. After the movie, there were 15 minutes to kill before midnight, so we checked out the Conrad next door and saw a DJ spinning some tunes for some middle-aged partygoers. Lame.
Since we were both indecisive, we finally just settled on going to the W near my apt. As we rode up the elevators to the 5th floor, we heard the frenzied crowd screaming 3...2....1.... HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Everyone was cheering, hugging, making out, and Doug and I just stood there. Awkwardly. Alone, with no girls to embrace. Who cares? Foie gras was my mistress now.
Happy New Year’s.