megu.jpgAny meal paired with sake is pretty much going to make Gothamist happy. Aside from the fact that we love this Japanese brew, after a few of those cute little sake pitchers – everything just tastes better (Life lesson: don’t let their unassuming size fool you). So when we made our reservation for the 8 course sake pairing dinner at Megu, we slapped on our drinking sandals and prepared ourselves for some amazing Japanese cuisine.

Now, we weren’t going into this cold. We had read about the “Megu Dinning Experience” and were prepared for the awe-inspiring dining room, the intimidating menu and the ice sculpture. In our mind we imagined it as an “Epcot’s Land of Imagination meets M.o.M.A” kind of feel (and we were surprisingly close.)

As we descended down the staircase into the main dinning room we stopped and noticed a beautiful arrangement of old sake bottles behind an imposing piece of glass. The sakes were perfectly arranged and lit like a piece of art. Our attention was quickly distracted by the excitement going on below. There was a fountain with fire and ice, walls of clay, glass and wood, waiters screaming "Irashaimase!'' (the Japanese greeting of welcome) and…wait a second, is that Jazz music? Yep, we couldn’t figure that one out either.

Our senses were fully engaged, there was so much to take in and we hadn’t even begun our meal yet. It seemed that everything in Megu was carefully thought out balanced with a contrasting element – there was paradox everywhere, all creating an overall feeling of balance and harmony. It is this philosophy of balance, the Yin and Yang, that prepares you to fully take in the sake experience. Sake, like wine, appeals to all senses. The delicate aromas lure you in, but it is the complex and balanced notes, which slowly reveal themselves, that keep you coming back for more.

The meal began with a greeting, a bow from the Sake Master and a quick overview of what we were about to experience. He went quickly, throwing out words like “Daiginjo” and “Fukkoshu”. We had no idea what he was talking about (we smiled and nodded), but as the courses began everything became clear.

The secret to a fabulous sake-food pairing was revealed to us the moment we walked through the door. The best combinations were contrasts: pairing bold complex sakes with simple, uncomplicated dishes or pairing rich, powerful foods with delicate, subtle sakes.

There were two pairings that best exemplified this. Course two was the Aquatic Trio, which was sayori, ainame and salmon sashimi, paired with a Junmai Daiginjo. The complex and fragrant sake complemented the simple yet flavorful fish. The sashimi was perhaps the best we have had, and the sake added interest and balance to course. Course four was called “Megumi” – Nature’s Blessing. This was a perfect expression of pairing more neutral sake with complex flavors. The dish consisted of five bites: sushi, tomato, shrimp, mushroom and eel all prepared in a unique beautiful fashion. The bold and exotic flavors shined against the more neutral backdrop of a special Junmai sake, which was light, smooth and crisp.

The food we tried that evening was unique and innovative – some things we loved (we are drooling just thinking of the sashimi and Kobe Beef Chateaubriand) and others we quickly washed down with Sake (Japanese Summer River Fish didn’t float our boat) but what truly made our dinning experience one we will always remember was the relationship we formed with Sake. Megu has elevated our expectations, knowledge and love of sake. Megu delivered a unique, complex and beautifully balanced dinning experience. It was the perfect expression of what sake can and should be.

Sake 101:

There are 4 basic types of sake, and each requires a different brewing method:

Junmai-shu (rice only, no adding of distilled alcohol), usually a bit heavier and fuller than the other types with a touch more acidity. Great with rich fish.

Ginjo-shu (highly milled rice, with or without alcohol added), the flavors are complex and fragrant and are often fruity and flowery. Best served with a simple dish as not to compete with the food.

Daiginjo-shu (even more highly milled rice, with or without alcohol added), extremely labor intensive process results in a very fragrant and complex sake. This is also best served with a simple dish to let the sake shine.

Namazake (sake that is not pasteurized), fresh and lively touch to the sake. All types of sake can be made namazake.

Megu, 62 Thomas Street between West Broadway & Church, (212) 964-7777