Chris Johnson is New York's best defense against the sake bomb. Since the early days of the sushi craze, Johnson has been helping the city wean itself off hot sake and other rice-wine gaffes.
After studying sake production and running a sushi bar in Japan, Johnson returned to New York to build high-quality sake programs at restaurants like BondSt and Megu. He also develops sake-based drinks for places like Town and Thom Bar and teaches patrons how to pair sake with food at Bao 111 and Bao Noodles, of which he is co-owner. His new company, Wa Sake, represents top-shelf sake from Japanese producers like Murai Family, as well as American brewer SakéOne.
Johnson's favorite sake spots—from a midtown sake temple to an underground East Village bar—are great places to warm up in cold weather:
What: A cult sake bar located in a nondescript office basement.
Order: Masumi Yumedono daiginjo—its hints of melon and smooth finish make it a perfect starter sake.
Sake Bar Satsko
What: A friendly hangout for sake and small bites.
Order: The rare Kubota Manju daiginjo or the peachy and peppery Yuki No Bosha Limited Release ginjo.
What: A dimly lit, underground sake bar with cheap Japanese snacks.
Order: Urakasumi ginjo, gently warmed to bring out its sweetness, or the crisp, small-batch Shichi Hon Yari gingo.
Bao Noodles ?This establishment is now closed.
What: Johnson's own Vietnamese noodle bar, where pho and báhn mì are expertly paired with sake.
Order: The earthy Sugidama ginjo or the creamy, Momokawa organic ginjo alongside chicken summer rolls.
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