Azumi Baltimore featured on Eater!


The 10 Hottest Baltimore Restaurants Right Now, April 2015

4 Azumi

Baltimore got a serious sushi upgrade with the opening of this sexy restaurant in the Four Seasons, whose ingredients — like fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market and melt-in-your-mouth cuts of Japanese A5 Wagyu beef — have the Baltimore Sun raving. Indulge in the ridiculous sake selection from master sake sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto and the list of Japanese whiskies while taking in a stunning view of the harbor. [Photo]

725 Aliceanna St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(443) 220-0477


Five alcohol all-stars share their tips for best enjoying whiskey, gin, sake, sherry and wine

Headshot by Noah Fecks
I’m beyond grateful, and completely humbled to be in such amazing company in this article by the fabulous Laura Hayes. Not only does she write for the Washington Post and numerous other publications, but she also blogs about fabulous regional cuisine via her site, Best Thing on the Menu. Thank you Laura, and all of the women included in this article.

  • By Laura Hayes

Chantal Tseng pours a glass of sherry using a venencia, an ages-old tool that helps aerate the fortified wine.

Chantal Tseng pours a glass of sherry using a venencia, an ages-old tool that aerates the fortified wine. Photo by Scott Suchman

When you raise a glass of craft whiskey to your lips, you’re not just sipping some potent amber alcohol. You’re also consuming centuries’ worth of history, countless aroma compounds, and the immeasurable fruits and labors of a hard-working distillery.

And that bottle of sake you’re drinking alongside your California roll? It’s way more than the sweet results of fermented rice. Rather, it’s an ancient liquor steeped in Japanese tradition with roots in religious ceremonies. And don’t even get us started about what’s going on in your favorite bottle of wine.

The takeaway? You sure do drink a lot. And also: For the layman, this alcohol stuff can be  complex.

Which is why we set out to find D.C.’s preeminent authorities who could answer our burning questions and demystify our favorite types of alcohol. And did we mention they all happen to be women?

Along the way we learned the best way to mix a martini (James Bond is wrong!), how hot your sake should be (trick question: It’s best served cold) and whether you should buy wine from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods (sorry, Two Buck Chuck).

Chantal Tseng
Sherry Pro, Mockingbird Hill, 1843 Seventh St. NW; 202-316-9396, (Shaw-Howard U)

Mockingbird Hill, the ham and sherry bar Tseng co-owns with husband Derek Brown in Shaw, prides itself on being transparent in its mission to bring good sherry to the D.C. market. “We’re not subtle about what we’re doing,” she says. “We’re like, ‘Hi, we’re a sherry bar, come on in!’ ”

No, ‘The Day We Fight Back’ is not like the SOPA/PIPA fight. It’s a bigger challenge.

Tseng, who has been bartending in D.C. since 2000, admires sherry for its versatility. “You don’t want to manipulate it too much. But at the same time, it’s super adaptable. Sherry makes any cocktail better.” She’s amassed 102 different sherries for the bar, and serves them in flights with small bites inspired by La Venencia, a popular Madrid wine bar.

“This is something that’s been around 3,000 years for a reason,” she says. “It was the ‘IT’ drink during Shakespearean times and in Colonial America.”

Sherry Tips
What to pair with sherry (besides ham): “Miso soup — especially with a nutty Amontillado sherry. Most table wines clash with miso dishes, but Amontillado and miso are a match because they share an earthy, or ‘umami,’ flavor profile.”
How long does a bottle last: “Manzanillas and finos are meant to be enjoyed fresh; even a week is pushing it. Dessert-like sherries like Pedro Ximenez can last longer, thanks to sugar, but finish a bottle off before the
one-month mark.”

Tiffany Dawn Sototiffany
Master Sake Teacher,
Soto is a “super taster,” meaning she has more taste buds than the rest of us. Good thing, because the aromatics in sake are far more delicate than those in wine, requiring a palate attuned to subtlety. “There are about
20 kinds of squash I can identify in sake,” Soto says.

The Howard County, Md., resident is the only non-Japanese female kikizakeshi (master sake teacher) certified in brewing, service and education. She acquired the title after collecting four certifications from the Sake Service Institute, taking additional courses and completing two brewing apprenticeships.

Through her business, Sake 2 You, she runs “sake safaris” to Japan, teaches a class geared toward business professionals called “Sake for Success” and is working on a book about incorporating sake into everyday life. “I’m trying every day, all day to make people feel like it’s less bourgeois,” Soto says.

Sake Tips
What sushi haters can eat with sake: “My favorite pairing is a pulled pork sandwich with a very bright ginjo (the second-highest sake quality level). But there are about 18,000 different sake varieties, so you can pair it with anything.”
What makes her shudder: “Besides sake bombs? When people microwave sake to temps above 100 degrees. It kills off the original alcohol, requiring grain alcohol to be added back in. It’s not even sake at that point! So stick with the cold stuff.”


Photo by Laura Hayes

Rachael Ewing
Whiskey Sommelier, Ri Ra Georgetown, 3125 M St. NW; 202-751-2111,
While enrolled as a student at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in 2008, Ewing showed up at The Grill Bar, one of the city’s oldest and most celebrated pubs, and asked for a job. “I knew nothing about whiskey, but they gave me a chance,” she says.

Ewing had planned for a career in international development, but she chose a different path after discovering she had a great palate. Her current position allows her to work with a unique challenge: She’s severely dyslexic. Ewing says it’s satisfying to find a career that rewards her sensory perception skills: “I’m very observant, which helps me behind the bar. My mind just picks up on things like body language because I’m trying to find my way around words.”

Now at 25, Ewing is one of 1,300 certified Scotch experts in the world, according to the certifying body, The Scotch Whisky Experience.

Scotch Tip
The best Scotch for beginners: “Glenrothes was my gateway whiskey. I use Scotch and whiskey interchangeably because Scotch is whiskey distilled from malted barley. Also, don’t be afraid of water. If that’s what it takes to get you to honor the art form and drink it straight, do it!”


Photo by Laura Hayes

Nicole Hassoun
Gin Goddess, The Gin Joint, 2317 Calvert St. NW; 202-234-4110, (Woodley Park)

Hassoun started at The Gin Joint — an 11-seat bar below New Heights — in March 2010 as a bartender, with only a shot of gin knowledge.

“There was literally no training,” she says. “In my first few days I found myself pretending to need more ice only to dash in the back to pop open a book to find recipes.”

Now as manager and beverage director, Hassoun possesses enough knowledge to play gin matchmaker with guests who need a little guidance. “Only one in 300 people come in and know what they want,” she says.
Beyond gin, Hassoun’s true passion is tonic. With help from Mom, she makes her own under the moniker Chronic Tonic (

Gin Tips
Shaken or stirred? “Stirred! Never ever shake a martini. It bruises the liquor and turns it a milky white. Stir it 35 times instead, and it will be just as cold and more pure.”
How to make a good drink at home: “Stay away from sugar. Use fresh fruit juices instead.”

kathyKathy Morgan
Master Sommelier,
Morgan, the 19th female to be named master sommelier in North America by the Court of Master Sommeliers (there are 135 master sommeliers in North America), was exposed to vino at an early age by parents who liked to entertain and didn’t believe in a kids table.

The sommelier track caught her eye while she was working as a cocktail waitress on dollar beer night in college. “Once I understood wine wasn’t just for stuffy old French men, I realized it’s the coolest job in a restaurant,” Morgan says.

As a consultant, she helps restaurants like Bryan Voltaggio’s Aggio build creative wine lists, and organizes private events for oenophiles.

Wine Tips
How to get a good value: “Lesser-known varietals are likely to have a lower markup. If you like the new oak and concentrated fruit taste of California cabernet, try Aglianico from Southern Italy.”
Better grocer for wine: Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market? “Whole Foods. They have staff to guide you.”


Fantastic Sake Feature in CHEERS Magazine

Cheers Cover

Thank you so much Amanda for featuring us in this fantastic article. Working with you was an absolute delight. We always love to see talented writers helping to spread the sake love.




The Sake Scene
By Amanda Baltazar

Sake used to be a drink consumed by just a few—typically aficionados of Japanese food and culture—but that’s been changing in recent years. The fermented rice drink has evolved from a ceremonial beverage most often heated and served in traditional, ceramic cups to a premium spirit that’s enjoyed more like a scotch or fine wine. Sake is also an excellent base for cocktails.

“Sake is getting bigger and people are getting more interested in it,” says Adrien Falcon, beverage director at Brushstroke. The New York restaurant, which serves Japanese kaiseki (multicourse) cuisine, has a list of 50 to 60 sakes by the bottle and another 15 by the glass. Bottles of sake range in price from $60 to $1,300 and glasses from $13 to $24.

Eiji Mori, sake director for Innovative Dining Group, changes up the sake menu at its Katana concept in Los Angeles a few times every year to introduce new beverages and new breweries.

The restaurant offers 55 sakes, ranging in price from $20 to $200. Most diners, Mori says, order bottles of middle-grade sake, which is priced in the $70 to $80 range.

Katana also has six sakes by the glass, which are priced from $8 to $18, and a sake flight with three different grades (2 oz. each) for $18.

Customers have become much more sophisticated about sake, Mori says. “When we opened the restaurant 10 years ago, people wanted beer or a sake bomb. Then it changed and customers started asking for the specific type of sake they wanted.”

When Mori sees a table with the sake flight, he always tries to stop by and provide some education. “I feel that is why guests order a sake flight—because they are interested in sake.”



While many refer to sake as rice wine, it’s actually brewed from fermented rice using a process similar to making beer. Sake is available in many different grades that vary by how polished the rice is—the more polished the kernel, the finer the sake. These are the four most common grades of sake.

Daiginjo. The most highly polished rice kernels are used to prepare daiginjo sake, which tends to be light and fragrant. At least 50% of the rice kernel is polished away for this grade of sake.

Ginjo. The ginjo sakes are slightly inferior to daiginjos, and have 40% to 50% of the rice kernel polished away. These are higher in alcohol (usually 18% to 20%).

Honjozo. Just about 30% of the rice kernel is polished away for honjozo sakes, so typically some alcohol is added during fermentation. These sakes tend to be dry, medium-light and relatively smooth.

Junmai. Full-bodied junmai sakes are more acidic than the other levels and they pair easily with most foods. Junmai means pure, and these sakes are made from rice, filtered water and koji mold (the yeast used to start the fermentation).

One variety of sake that has become popular lately is nigori. It’s an unfiltered sake, so nigori is cloudy, and tends to be sweeter and more fruity than other sakes.

Nigori has a more concentrated, creamy flavor vs. other sakes and it’s easy to pair with food. “It can go with a wide variety of dishes,” Falcon says. “It’s has a little more concentration of flavor, and a creamy, milky flavor profile.”

Brushstroke always has two or three nigoris by the glass, priced from $13 to $25. They pair well with bold flavors and tofu, says sommelier Jacob Daugherty.

Nigori is also big at Katana, where it’s typically offered by the the bottle. Although just one style is offered by the glass, Mori will open bottles of nigori on request. Opened sake lasts for about a week in the refrigerator.

“Nigori is a lot sweeter so it is easier to drink for some people,” Mori says. Nigori is best on its own, he notes, “or sometimes I do it with sweeter desserts.”

Scottsdale, AZ-based RA Sushi offers three nigori sakes, according to Alex Summer, corporate beverage director for the 25-unit restaurant chain. The nigoris go well with dessert or with spicy dishes, such as spicy tuna rolls, “or anything with sriracha or wasabi.”

Nigori helps get people into sake, says Summer. “Sake can have quite the bite depending on what you’re trying for the first time, but nigori is a very appealing beverage and has less of an alcoholic flavor than other sakes.”

H2O, a seafood restaurant in Smithtown, NY, has a full sake menu featuring two junmais, one junmai nigori, and one daiginjo. The 300-ml. bottles of sake range in price from $21 to $58.

“I’ve found people prefer it by the bottle, because it’s just three or four servings,” says Paolo Villela, beverage director for Bohlsen Restaurant Group, which owns H2O. Customers mostly order the sake to pair with sushi, but it also goes well with other seafood dishes and even spicier meals, he says.



Several operators are using sake in cocktails as well. H2O, for instance, offers a Saketini made with junmai sake, vanilla vodka and fresh lemon juice, served in a Martini glass garnished with cucumber. 

RA Sushi has a Strawberry Saketini (nigori sake, vodka, strawberry puree, simple syrup and citrus) on its menu at all times. It also promotes monthly drink specials, such as the Frozen Red Bull Cherry Bomb, a mix of Red Bull, Three Olives cherry vodka, soju (a distilled Korean beverage), orange juice and Monin cherry syrup.

Katana serves a lychee-infused and a yuzu-infused sake for $12 apiece. It uses premium sake, and adds the fruit for a day before it pours off the liquid.

The restaurant also sometimes makes these with flavored syrups, too, which last longer (made with fresh fruit the sake lasts about a week) and have consistent flavors.

“Sake cocktails should be simple with not many ingredients,” says Mori. “I still want to taste sake.”

Phoenix-based P.F. Chang’s offers a Yuzu Ginger Mojito made with junmai sake, TY KU citrus liqueur, yuzu juice, fresh lime juice, and house-made ginger beer. And the Asian bistro chain’s Rock-n-Berry is a favorite summer cocktail that contains sake, fresh cucumbers and strawberries, and lime juice, says director of beverages Mary Melton. Both cocktails are priced at $9. But while these drinks do fairly well at P.F. Chang’s, its traditional cocktails are more popular, she says.

For certain, not everyone is a fan of sake cocktails. Casual dining chain operator Ruby Tuesday had offered a Pomegranate Sake Martini for a few years but took it off the menu about two years ago. “Sake’s plateaued, at least,” says beverage director Ken Lennox.

And at Brushstroke, “We do not typically incorporate sake into our cocktail program,” says Daugherty. “We will make Saketinis if requested, but it is not a cocktail we promote or push. Sakes are treated as nobility on our menu.”



Sake is most frequently consumed warm in the U.S., but this can be a mistake, says Tiffany Soto, founder of Sake2You Consulting in Las Vegas and founder/president of The North American Sake Institute. In Japan, she explains, sake is sometimes warmed, but only to around 105ºF.

Most of the sake consumed in the U.S. is cut with grain alcohol so it has a high alcohol content, Soto says. “And if you heat it too high the alcohol will go, though if you gently warm it, it doesn’t.” 

To avoid errors, Soto recommends serving sake cold. Most sakes are best at around 45 to 55 degrees, she says.

Sake is supposed to be delicate, intricate and subtle, Soto says. “As it gets warmer, different aromatics can take over and you miss out on the chance to appreciate the nuances.” Serving sake too cold can have the same effect, she notes.

But many consumers love their sake heated up. Hot sake is the No. 1 seller at H2O, for instance.

Tokya will heat some sakes in the winter and add spices. Salicetti says he’ll combine cinnamon, clove, star anise, fennel seeds and allspice in a small cheesecloth bag and drop it into the warm sake for about 20 seconds. These drinks are then garnished with fresh herbs, such as rosemary or sage.

“Just adding some green herbs to sake brings out some of the flavors,” he says, “but you can’t add too many because sake’s delicate and light.” ·

Amanda Baltazar is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area.



Life in Japan revolves a lot around rituals, and one of them is that you shouldn’t pour your own sake—you’re supposed to let others pour it for you. But for bars and restaurants that serve sake, it’s okay to let this one slide, says Tiffany Soto, founder of Sake2You Consulting in Las Vegas, and founder/president of The North American Sake Institute.

“Restaurants are trying to give this extra level of service by pouring sake for customers,” Soto says. But it’s better to let them do it themselves. “From a business perspective, they’re going to drink more, and they’ll have more fun with it,” she notes.

That said, there are other aspects of sake service that operators should pay more attention to. These are a few common mistakes bars and restaurants often make with sake.

Serving sake too hot or too cold. Sake should be served at 45ºF to 55ºF degrees and no warmer than 105ºF.

Not providing enough information on the sake menu. Instead of “puffy language like ‘light and dreamy,’ provide information on the quality level, where it’s from, plus a tasting note,” says Soto.

Not adequately training staff. “Try and be one step ahead of the customer,” Soto says. “If your staff is informed, then the customer is, too, and they’re more likely to spread the word about your sake program.”

Serving sake that’s too old. Sake is stamped with a shipping date, and it should be used within two years of this date, Soto says.

If it’s past its prime, sake gets flabby, earthy and rich and starts yellowing–it should be very clear, she notes. “Even if it’s a little bit yellow, it shouldn’t be served.”--AB

Awesome write up on FS Taste about Sake Month


Celebrate International Sake Day with Four Seasons Baltimore’s PABU

October 1, 2013 in News

Sake at Four Seasons Baltimore's Pabu

Tiffany Dawn Soto wants to talk sake. A master sake sommelier or kikzake-shi, she is a leading sake expert in North America, consulting for a variety of companies and leading “sake safaris” several times a year in Japan. Fortunately for us, Soto’s also the part of the team at Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, home to PABU Izakaya, where she regularly helps diners choose from more than 100 premium sakes and leads seminars on demystifying this often-misunderstood fermented rice beverage (for starters, it’s not actually rice wine).

In honour of International Sake Day (October 1) and Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore’s month of sake events, here’s the Taste Q&A about all things sake.


What’s your favourite, surprisingly amazing, food and sake pairing?

Dawn Soto: My absolute favorite food to pair with sake is a pulled pork sandwich with a rich tangy sauce (I usually make mine from a sake base). There are dozens of sakes that would pair well with this, but personally, I like Wataribune Junmai Ginjo.

What are some of the more common misconceptions about sake, and how do you address them?

DS: When I’m speaking with guests that are dining at PABU for the first time, I spend about 60% of my time clearing up misconceptions. The most common is that sake should be served hot, because previously they have been served something called sanzoushu (sake cut with grain alcohol). The alcohol content of sanzoushu is higher and does not taste good, and heating it masks the flavour and reduces the alcohol content. Premium sakes, on the other hand, are much lower in alcohol content than people think (another big misconception), actually only 15-16% on average, so if we heated it up, there wouldn’t really be any alcohol left.

Another misconception about sake is that it will give you a bad hangover, which is true for sanzoushu, but not for sake. In reality, premium and super premium sakes are sulfite-free, low in residual sugar, and lacking the impurities that give you a bad hangover.

What would be your dream way to celebrate International Sake Day?

DS: Ideally, I would spend a whole month in Japan. October is the end of rice harvest, and with all of the Japanese maple trees changing colour, it is a magnificent sight to see. I would love to work my way through four prefectures (regions) throughout the month, maybe attend the autumn festivals and enjoy as much kubocha (Japanese pumpkin) tempura as I could get my hands on.

What kind of glass do you recommend and why?

DS: Every premium and super premium sake calls for a different glass. When a sake has more nuanced aromatics, I prefer a glass with a larger bowl like a bordeaux or burgundy glass, which helps increase the evaporative surface, thus releasing more aromatics. When a sake has aromatics that are more overt (typical of futsuushus and junmais), I tend to gravitate towards a small stemless glass with little surface area. When a sake is clean in style with a lighter delicate nose, I prefer a stemmed glass with a small bowl (Spieglau port or sherry glass). When I don’t have the luxury of many options, I recommend a stemmed glass with a bowl that isn’t too large or small.

What’s your best piece of advice for people wishing to learn more about sake?

DS: Try as many labels as you can! I’m a firm believer that every sake is not for every palate, but with about 18,000 labels produced each year, spread out over 48 prefectures, there is a sake for everyone. Decide if you like a new sake on your second sip because most people aren’t used to rice alcohol, so you’ll taste more alcohol than is really there on your first sip. If you aren’t sure where to start, begin with Niigata because that region produces a style of sake that is incredibly clean, light, elegant, and food-friendly, which tends to be approachable. And of course, come visit me in Baltimore! -Bonnie Schiedel

Sake at Pabu, Four Seasons Baltimore

Follow Master Sake Sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto on Twitter @HeySakeLady or visit her website,

Learn about wine from another friendly, expert Four Seasons sommelier, Dana Farner on Taste or get the inside scoop on a night out in Tokyo from Four Seasons Magazine.

– See more at:

Amzing write up on Forbes Travel Blog – Thank you McLean!!!

The line-up.

Examining The Izakaya Pub Trend In America

  • October 30, 2013 6:50 am

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Small-plate restaurants and craft-cocktail bars are ubiquitous across major cities in the United States. They’re called different things — dim sum, gastropubs, tapas, mezzes, cicchetti —  but the meaning is the same. The latest trend in small-plate dining is the Japanese izakaya (ee-ZAH-ka-ya), which translates to “a sit-down sake shop.” In Japan, these small pubs often specialize in one particular kind of food — chicken or even horse meat — but in America, it generally just means small portions of a variety of Japanese favorites, and perhaps even sushi or sashimi. But unlike other small-plate spots, izakayas are more than just a dining destination — they’re a drinking culture with a foodie bent.

Before you delve palate first into this culinary endeavor, know your terminology. Try okonomiyaki, often called “Japanese pizza,” a pancake topped with veggies and meats or seafood, mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce. Sushi lovers will enjoy onigiri, rice balls stuffed with fish, pickled plum, kombu and mentaiko (spicy cod roe). Less adventurous eaters will want to opt for yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) or kushiyaki (grilled meat or veggie skewers) and agedashi tofu (tofu deep fried in broth).

Dishes come out in progression as they are ready, and more substantial plates — anything involving rice and noodles — are saved for the end of the meal. Since izakayas are as much about drinking as they are about food, these heavier dishes are used to soak up all the alcohol you’ve consumed throughout the dining experience and to help prevent a headache the next day. Now that you know the background, try these five great izakayas across the United States:

PABU, Baltimore

Located within the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore and the brainchild of acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga, PABU offers enough in the way of big-name attraction to woo nearly any type of diner. You’ll find everyone from suited businessmen to well-dressed 20-somethings snacking on sushi and sashimi flown in daily from Japan or meats prepared on a massive traditional robata grill. Try the Berkshire pork belly served with Japanese pepper and sake — it’s delicious. The modern space, all light woods and sweeping curves of steel, overlooks the city’s famed Inner Harbor from floor-to-ceiling glass windows. While the restaurant’s signature drink list is strong, we suggest heading to the 10-seat sake bar and sampling a flight of one of the more than 100 varieties from Tiffany Dawn Soto, the hotel’s beverage manager. She’s one of the few master sake sommeliers in the country — and one of the best-known female sake experts in the world.

FTG-DropIn-Izakaya-Daikaya-grilledavocado-CreditBrianLiu-ToolboxDCDaikaya, Washington, D.C.

You’ll never look at a cup of noodles the same way again after a meal at Daikaya, Washington, D.C.’s popular izakaya. Hatched up by three Japanese chef-partners, the restaurant is a small taste of Japan in Washington’s Chinatown, offering a stacked approach seen in many high-density areas of Tokyo. It’s easy to spot from the street at night, as the restaurant’s backlit exterior resembles a Japanese lantern. Ramen 1F, on the restaurant’s first floor, offers Sapporo-style ramen, a favorite variety that includes a rich and hearty miso-based broth topped with vegetables and meat. Upstairs, the Izakaya 2F specializes in comfort food with a modern twist. Don’t miss the wasabi octopus, seasoned with wasabi sprouts, green apple and olive oil, or the sesame panna cotta, a not-too-sweet ending to the meal. And remember — izakayas aren’t just for nighttime. Daikaya also offers a sought-after weekend brunch.

Aburiya Raku, Las Vegas

Ask any Las Vegas chef worth his salt where he goes to eat after hours and he won’t name a place on the Strip, but rather a strip mall. Located 10 minutes from the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard sits Raku, nestled inelegantly in the heart of Chinatown. Technically dubbed an aburiya (a slightly more upscale version of an izakaya known for serving tavern food), Raku makes up for in quality what it lacks in décor. The 48-seat restaurant is simply designed in dark woods. The look is no frills, but the food — from the first bite of the housemade agedashi tofu to the udon noodle with foie gras egg custard soup — is divine. It’s no surprise, given that chef Mitsuo Endo trained first as a formal kaiseki-style chef. Try the $100 or $150 multi-course tasting menu, available only on request.

Izakaya Den, Denver

The founders of Denver’s popular Sushi Den on historic South Pearl Street opened this 250-seat izakaya next door, offering a mix of traditional Japanese dishes with international flavors. Mexican, French and Italian ingredients play a part in the menu’s robust array of options. The restaurant flies in more than 2,000 pounds of fish daily from Japan to form an extensive and fresh sushi listing, while popular dishes like the den short ribs in Korean marinade with jalapeños, haricots verts and mushrooms round out the heartier plates. Just be sure to slow your sake consumption — the altitude in the city will likely give you a mile-high headache if you overindulge.

Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya, New York City

The newest of the Blue Apron brand of restaurants, eponymously named Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya, draws loyal fans to its home on the second floor of the Thompson LES hotel. As trendy as the location suggests, the menu pays homage not only to Blue Ribbon’s superior reputation for sushi — the fresh daily specials are always a good bet — but also to more conventional pub fare. Come with a crowd to the New York City hot spot, all the better to see and be seen. Then order the kushiyaki skewers of perfectly grilled and seasoned meat, the ideal complement to oshinko (pickled vegetables), or even the less traditional but no less beloved Blue Ribbon signature — fried chicken. Wash it all down with the house Blue Ribbon junmai ginjo sake. The restaurant is also open for breakfast and lunch daily.

Photos Courtesy of Brian Liu and Toolbox D C

Awesome Recent Post in Style Magazine!

Tiffany Dawn Soto
Five questions for the ‘Master Sake Teacher’ at the Four Seasons’ PABU.
Interview by Joe Sugarman
Photographed by Justin Tsucalas
Tiffany Dawn SotoWhen Tiffany Dawn Soto, 30, was an undergraduate studyingadvertising at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she took a wine-tasting class as a sophomore. By the time she was a senior, she was teaching the class. “We sort of determined right away that I was much better at tasting wine than somebody should have been with so little experience,” she says.But she soon discovered that she was even better at something else. “As well as I did with tasting wines, you could triple that with how well I tasted sake.”

After stints managing the wine programs at Las Vegas’ Red Rock Resort and SushiSamba, Soto went on to earn the title of Sake Kikizake-shi or Master Sake Teacher, becoming the first non-Japanese woman to do so. Now she oversees the beverage program at Baltimore’s Four Seasons’ restaurants, including newly opened PABU, which serves more than 100 varieties of sake.

So, were you just born with an extraordinary palate?

I took a test and they called me a supertaster. I think some of these things may be subjective, but they say that 95 percent of supertasters can’t eat cilantro. I haven’t been able to eat cilantro since the day I was born. I always spit it out because it tastes like grass and soap ground up together to me. My mom always thought I was weird because I’m from San Diego where everything is Baja Mexican food. It was awful.

What exactly is a Master Sake Teacher?

In Japan, they don’t have sommeliers, but they do respect educators, which is why it’s an educator term, so to speak. Being called a Sake Kikizake-shi means that you are qualified to teach more about sake than anybody else. I was the first female at my level of certification. There are a few others now, but not a lot of us.

What are some misconceptions that Americans have about sake?

The big one is that sake should be served hot. It should be served cool or cold. There are varying degrees that are appropriate for each bottle and there are 18,000 different kinds of sake produced each year. The reality is that when you heat a sake you cook all the alcohol out of it.

Wow, 18,000 different sakes? That sounds just as diverse as wines.

Absolutely. And there are actually 102 different varieties of rice certified to create sake. Just like there are many varietals of wine grapes, there are many varietals of sake rice. One of the most unusual perhaps is Wataribune, which was actually an extinct rice that was brought back by the brewer of one particular sake. He wanted to resurrect this rice and he found a little seed pocket in an agricultural museum somewhere and resurrected the varietal. We have it on the menu at PABU.

So I have to ask: With a job like yours, do you ever get hangovers?

Actually, real premium and super premium sake won’t give you a hangover. There’s very little sugar and no sulfites. You need both of those [to get a hangover]. Of course, if you drink your sake with whiskey and beer and a shot of tequila, all bets are off.

PABU, 200 International Dr., 410-223-1460,

Awesome recent post on – So Grateful for the Sake LOVE!

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Hey Sake Lady: Four Seasons Sake Sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto Brings Eastern Flavor to the Western World

by McLean Robbins (RSS feed)  on Jul 4th 2012 at 4:00PM

tiffany dawn soto
Here, we take a deeper dive into one of the coolest jobs in the hospitality industry – a sake sommelier.Four Seasons Baltimore’s beverage manager Tiffany Dawn Soto wants you to know two things – first, that sake is pronounced “sa-keh” and not “sa-kee” and second, that you should never, under any circumstances, do a sake bomb.”So many people think that sake is just hot sake – that battery acid you drink at 3 a.m. with bad sushi!”Authenticity means everything to the Western World’s most famous female Master Sake Sommelier, or kikzake-shi, which translates to a loose cross between sommelier and educator.
The 30-year-old has traveled to Japan more than two dozen times to further her sake education, and it shows.

She leans in, her bright red hair and pale, almost Irish-looking visage at odds with her flawless pronunciation of Japanese terms. In a 101-level Sake tasting video, Soto teaches patrons the basics. She starts with the most basic, Junmai.

“Junmai very simply means that sake is un-messed around with. It has four ingredients: rice, water, yeast and a mold called koji.” She goes on to talk about Yamahai (also called Kimoto) sake, which she says “uses a traditional brewing method that presents as a caramelized, earthy texture” or, in layman’s terms, “goes great with spicy food.” Another she describes as “a little more filling, probably not something you’ll want to have at the all-you-can-eat sushi bar.”

“If it’s sake, Tiffany knows it,” says Evan Wald, director of special events for Sushi Samba and Sugarcane Lounge, Las Vegas, where Soto worked until 2009.But it’s not just Soto’s knowledge – or her sex – that make her so special, although she is one of only two female sake sommeliers considered to be at her level of knowledge and understanding in the United States.”She has the spirit of a 100-year-old Japanese man trapped inside her,” says E.C. Gladstone, a Las Vegas-based food writer who has known Tiffany for more than half a decade. It’s an interesting comparison. Petite and fashionable, Soto looks more like a ’40s pinup girl than a zen master. But she didn’t enter the field because she thought it was a moneymaker, even though it is.Sake experienced a 13.9 percent year-over-year importation growth from 2010 to 2011, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, totaling up to $41.7 million dollars in annual sake import in 2011, a staggering $29.3 million increase in importation since 2002. Soto holds the distinction of being the highest seller of sake outside of Japan for several years running, a total that amounts to 25 percent of the United States’ overall sake sales.

All facts Soto says she doesn’t consider. She didn’t intend to become involved in the food and beverage industry at all. Ten years ago, Soto thought she’d work in advertising.

Not yet 21, Soto began her first forays into the alcohol world while working at a fine dining restaurant in North Carolina, where she was attending college. The state’s beverage laws permitted those under 21 to serve alcohol so long as they “trained” in it, and so began Soto’s love affair with wine. For the next year, she took weekly education classes to boost her skills.
Midway through college, Soto returned to her hometown of Las Vegas closer to her family.
While there, Soto quickly started attending, and soon teaching, wine education classes. The innately competitive Soto decided to delve in to sake when the University of Nevada’s large Asian population began asking questions about sake she couldn’t answer. That, she decided, was unacceptable.

And thus began her love affair with a spirit she modestly says her already sensitive palate had a unique and innate feel for. With encouragement from her professor, she decided to become a sommelier, even as she worked to finish her degree in advertising. Level One certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers in hand, Soto entered the food and beverage world and quickly rose through the ranks, working at Las Vegas’ most acclaimed hotels, including Wynn, Venetian, Palazzo and more. She also holds the industry’s highest title from Niigata Sake Research Institute as well as a Sake Professional Educators Advanced Certification from Sake One.

“Tiffany is without a doubt the most knowledgeable sake expert I have ever come across,” says SushiSamba group’s Assistant General Manager Michael Durovsik.

Soto loves her career, and works hard at it, but it doesn’t define her. She prefers to spend her off hours with family, including her 10-year-old daughter, Evie, and her new husband, Ryan, at their rambling historic farmhouse just outside of Baltimore.

Interestingly, it was her husband that inspired her next career move. When Ryan, also a sommelier by training, was accepted into law school, Tiffany never dreamed of following – her career and family were in Las Vegas, and the move for school was only temporary. A position opened soon after Ryan’s acceptance to University of Maryland Law School at Four Seasons Baltimore, where acclaimed chef Michael Mina was opening his first Japanese izakaya-style restaurant, Pabu. Soto couldn’t say no. So she packed her bags, rented a 26-acre historic farmhouse in Elkridge, and arrived this past December.

“I knew we had to make her part of the team,” said Patric Yumul, Mina Group president, who found Soto through her LinkedIn profile and Sake2You consulting site, a business that she’s grown in recent years to include nine employee consultants that travel the globe when she’s on a job or restaurant site. “She has proven to be a great decision and continues to assist us in growing our vision with the beverage programs and hospitality.”

Pabu, opening in May, will have at least 105 sakes on the opening menu, the largest and most comprehensive collection on the East Coast.

But she’s not all sake, all the time. True to her Type A routes, Soto spends her free time scrapbooking, working on a wine cellar in her home’s newly-discovered secret passageway, helping her daughter with a soon-to-launch food blog called Junior Epicurean and uploading photos to her Instagram feed.

Someday, she says, she’d like to take a step back and become a full-time mom. But she’ll always have a hand in the sake world, she says. It would be too hard to give up completely.
With all these passions, one might think Soto is exhausting just to watch, but she isn’t. What’s hard is imagining how she does it – Soto won’t even touch caffeine, eschewing even the traditional green tea served with so many meals in Japan.

Soto is modest about her success, calling it “easy” and “natural.” “I have the best job in the world,” she says with a wry smile. “I get paid to drink.”

But it’s not just Soto’s palate that makes her unique. “She doesn’t lord her knowledge over you as much as use the knowledge to help you understand how sake can be enjoyed and that it doesn’t need to be enjoyed only in a traditional setting,” Gladstone says. She’s passionate about what she loves – and it comes through in her work.

Her education in the spirit doesn’t make her a snob – most of the time. During a recent lunch, Soto rolls her eyes when a dining companion says she prefers wine from a box. It’s the same disgusted look she gets when someone mentions sake bombs.

That doesn’t make Soto a price snob, just a quality one. She prefers $19-a-bottle 10 Cane rum for her mojitos (which she learned to make on a trip to Brazil) and $30-a-bottle Hangar vodka, which, she says, “it isn’t over-distilled to the point of practically becoming moonshine.”
Of course, her love of all things “spiritual” sometimes leads to geeking out, like when she dubs Hangar’s Mandarin Flower vodka perfect for a “retro-nasal breathe.”

The concept is simple. “Smell [the vodka]. Take a sip, hold it in your mouth for a moment, breathe in, swallow and then slowly breathe out,” Soto suggests. “You’ll get a second whiff coming from the back of your throat.”

It works. Soto smiles. It’s exactly what she wants people to learn, and part of what she wants to do with sake – make it as accessible as spirits like vodka, rum and whiskey.
It’s easy to believe that Soto would know how best to taste each liquor. On one trip, where she chose Sushi Samba in The Palazzo’s collection of more than 125 sakes (the largest on the West Coast), Soto tasted more than 2,500 varieties on a two-month journey.
So why won’t this self-admitting lover of all things Japanese just pack her bags and move to where the sake got its start?

She would if she could … but she can’t. Even without the ties of family and kids keeping her in the states, Soto is allergic to soy, a product that’s in almost all Japanese foods, right down to the local KFC or hamburger joint. It’s in everyday products, such as shampoo, as well as present in the pollen and air.

Although she visits the Japan every chance she gets and has been on many trips, several dozen, by her own estimation, several over a month in duration – Soto packs a separate suitcase of food and medicine to get her through each trip, hoarding her granola bars and jerky to last for two meals before splurging on a traditional meal for dinner. She can’t pass up an authentic experience.

Soto says she’s sampled everything from horse meat (her favorite is horse sashimi) – “it’s incredibly lean, like bison” – to an izakaya specializing in beef tongue, which she dubbed “one of the best meals I’ve ever had.”

Thankfully, sake doesn’t have any soy in it, just rice.

Sake 101 with Al Mancini

A snippet from the Top of the Food Chain Episode Yesterday

SAKE 101

A snippet from the Top of the Food Chain Episode Yesterday

Check out the most recent episode of “Top of the Food Chain” with Al Mancini. The episode is a 30 minute Sake 101 course with yours truly, Tiffany Dawn Soto! The episode aired yesterday, and if you give it a watch, you might just learn a thing or two!


Top of the Food Chain – Sake 101 Episode

Sake saves the day…

John Curtis

The Worthlessness Of Restaurant Critics

January 14, 2009 By: John Curtas Category: Food, KNPR

Michael Winner, the restaurant critic for The Sunday Times of London has called food critics the most pathetic, useless group of people on the planet.

And you know what? He has a point.

On the lower-archy of jobs, he considers them just a millimeter above public relations folks.

Because on some level, the value of what we do never approaches that of a landscape worker, pool boy, or bank clerk – much less a line cook, schoolteacher or biologist.

All we do, if you think about it, is do much more of what is (next to sex) the most enjoyable, essential of human activities (eat) and then write stories and opinions based on our experiences.

There’s something inherently voyeuristic about both our dining and sharing of same with our audience…and just like all voyeurs, we’re really more bystanders than participants in whatever we’re interested in.

All of this is by way of introducing a conversation with Shimon Bokovza — one of the owners of Sushi Samba recently — who took me to task for my mostly negative review of his restaurant.

I admired his confronting me like an adult, and asking to meet me face to face, and it was refreshing to politely debate him about the merits of his concept restaurant, without ever have to watch him perform a “Full Andre” –- named for the cheesecloth-skinned Andre Rochat – signifying those who prefer pirouettes of pique and petulance to honest discourse about the quality of the food.

We had barely sat down when he mentioned that my review struck him as mean-spirited at the worst, and like I’d had a very bad experience at best.

While protesting that neither was the case, it struck me that here was a passionate, successful guy, who probably wasn’t used to someone reporting on his life’s work in such disrespectful tones. After all, he and his employees are the ones working hard at creating and maintaining a high-pressure business, and yours truly is simply observing and then writing about it.

During our talk, done over some superb sakes by the way, courtesy of super sake sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto, it occurred to me that my biggest mistake in my review was deciding to write about Sushi Samba in the first place. Like Tao and Lavo, critiquing these nightclubs/restaurants is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel for a critic. They’re really not about the food as much as the experience, and I doubt if 90% of their patrons know or care the slightest about fine distinctions in flavor or authenticity.

Like I said: maybe we are the most worthless people on earth, but in my more puffed-up moments, I like to think of myself as a consumer advocate – helping you listeners and readers make informed choices about where to spend your food dollars.

But after an hour with Shimon, all I could think of were the words of the immortal Max Vandeverre – the critic in that great food movie: Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe (as he is eating himself to death – or so he thinks) – all he can summon in his last breaths to say is: “I was never worthy of any of you….”

And so it is.

Las Vegas Weekly

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