Izakaya, a kind of casual Japanese gastropub, has been having a moment in NYC over the last few years, and Lower East Side eatery SakaMai is part of that movement. The elegant little restaurant, owned by Hawaii-born Japanese-Americans Natalie Graham and Tanner Fahl, has been serving up stellar Japanese small plates and sake under the direction of Executive Chef Takanori Akiyama since December 2012. At a recent press dinner to sample the new menu, it was clear the spot's still got it. But though there were some very good dishes (looking at you, Kakuni Sliders), the real standout here was the super-rich, extraterrestrial Uni Mazemen.
We were advised to save the $26 dish for last, and for good reason, since after you suck this one down, you won't be able to fit a single morsel in your stomach. The Uni Mazeman is comprised of temomi ramen noodles, bottarga (a Mediterranean fish roe), topped with braised bamboo shoots and intermixed with buttery uni, or sea urchin. To increase its gluttonousness, the dish comes paired with marrow on a split-open bone, which you scoop out yourself and mix in with the rest of the bowl to taste. It is well worth the potential heart attack.
If, for some inexplicable reason, this doesn't sound like your cup of ramen, SakaMai boasts a few other dishes of note—the aforementioned Kakuni Sliders ($12) are tasty little braised pork belly slices sandwiched inside a brioche bun, and the peppery Chicken Wings Two Ways ($12) are something fierce, though you can skip the unremarkable Kari Kari Crispy Salad ($14) and the Grilled Octopus ($17). Be sure to let your server recommend a good sake or two to go with your meal, since the SakaMai team knows its stuff, though beware—a few "tastings" will do you in faster than you think.
SakaMai is located at 157 Ludlow Street between Stanton and Rivington Streets on the Lower East Side (646-590-0684, sakamai.com).