157 Ludlow St
(between Stanton St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002
As some of you may know, I was invited to be a judge for Tabelog, a Japanese restaurant review site that is huge in Japan and just starting to make its mark here. The reviews and ratings are generated by aggregating information from the top X amount of bloggers in a given area. The ratings are therefore meant to be more legit. “For Foodies By Foodies” is the idea. I wonder if the reviews will be lower or higher than average Yelp reviews… food bloggers are definitely more critical than the average Joe, which makes me think reviews will be harsher on Tabelog. On the other hand, bloggers also are more likely to be friends with folks in the restaurant business or be invited to blogger events, after which they are almost required to give higher ratings.
For example, Tabelog hosted a blogger meet and greet at SakaMai, a newish Japanese restaurant in LES that opened earlier this year. The entire restaurant was taken out for this private, excluuuuuusive event. I felt pretty boss rolling in with my plus one, Y.N., getting handed a fresh deck of business cards Tabelog graciously made for all of us, and having my photo taken like a celebrity. Okay, my head may have been in the clouds at this point, but I really felt great having my blog be recognized and found!
But back to my point. SakaMai provided us with an open bar of all kinds of sake, wine, beer, and cocktails, along with seven dishes to sample (or stuff your face with if you’re me…). As I am writing this, I feel pressure to give all praise to SakaMai because Tabelog paid for my gluttony that night. But I assure you, dearest readers, I will not. I will only be telling the truth because ultimately, I want my blog to be truthful and helpful.
Dish 1: Carrot Puree with dashi gelee and summer truffle. The puree was naturally sweet from the carrot. Dashi is a simple broth or stock that typically serves as the base for miso soup. It’s meant to be fragrant and light, which is probably why I didn’t taste it. The carrot puree was quite strong and overpowered any other flavors. Summer truffle was beautiful to look at but also overpowered by the carrot.
Dish 2: Filet Mignon Tartare with sea urchin, wasabi marscapone, crushed poached egg, and brioche toast. All of the food was laid out in a back room (see last photo) so a lot of the food had been sitting around already by the time I got there. The toast was cold, which I know isn’t the way the dish is meant to be. Tartare was solid… and fairly simple tasting. I wouldn’t have known that there was all that other stuff in it had I not seen the ingredients on the menu.
Dish 3: Temari Sushi with Tasmanian Trout and caviar rouge. Temari means “thread ball” in Japanese, so temari sushi are small balls of sushi. Very cute looking. Tasmanian Trout is a member of the salmon family. It is a firm fish with a salmony flavor that is supposed to be less pronounced than salmon. The rice was a tough wild or brown or mixed grain rice that overwhelmed the delicate fish… I’m sort of a purist when it comes to sushi. I feel like sushi should only be made with white rice to highlight the fish.
Dish 4: Croquette with lobster, lardo iberico, and sansho pepper. I was told that this is one of SakaMai’s best sellers. The croquette was also cold, so I feel bad judging it based on my experience. Lardo iberico is, I believe, thick backfat from Spain’s Pata Negra pigs. Sansho pepper is a Japanese mountain pepper. The two sound great together but sound like they would overpower the lobster. Again, don’t want to judge because I had a cold croquette.
Dish 5: Tsukune Slider with chicken meatball, foie gras, caramelized onion, butterhead lettuce, and harissa aioli. DELICIOUS. My favorite item from the night. The chicken meatball was super soft and flavorful. The creaminess from the foie gras and the sweetness from the soft onions tasted deeeelicious. Harissa is a Tunisian hot chili sauce that added a kick that was needed to cut through all the creaminess. I was concerned that the bun would be too dry but realized that the fillings were so juicy that the dryness of the bun kept everything in tact.
Dish 6: Secreto Iberico Pork with farro salad, kogashi shoyu. Pork was very tough and was cold. I am very sure this isn’t the way I was meant to enjoy the dish so also want to hold back on judgement. Farro salad was light and tasty. I can imagine this being great if the pork was hot, juicy, and tender.
Dish 7: Strawberry Compote with mascarpone mousse and truffled balsamic glaze. Meh. Tasted like strawberries and a slightly heavier whipped cream. No one does this combo better than Peter Luger’s.
Here is the spread. I will definitely come back just because I didn’t feel like I had a true SakaMai experience. By the way, I’m the girl on the right in this photo. This was me the whole night. I was in awe of all the real food photographers there. Food photography is so difficult because when photographed incorrectly, food can look quite grotesque and unappetizing!