Steamed and soggy is how I remember my first encounter with sake (served hot in a damp wood box that didn't serve the nose at all). I ran into it again in college, where frat boys chugged hot shots of it splashed in beer, but by then I'd become an observer only.
Happily, my latest sake sip was in a cocktail - and chilled, which better leverages this delicate, clean Japanese spirit.
I came by my second (and third, fourth) glasses of sake at Koi, the Asian pop-up that surfaces at Twist Lounge on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Chef Mike Fennelly has crafted a fresh menu for Koi that includes bahn mi, Thai noodles, Korean barbecue and sushi (Fennelly is especially gifted as a sushi artist, and "Koi" also refers to a recurring theme in his oil paintings).
A natural pairing is sake, which is brewed from fermented rice, water, yeast and mold in a process that shares more in common with beer, but understandably gets its misnomer - "rice wine" - from its silky body and subtle fruitiness.
"I like the flavor and versatility of sake," says Jacob DeLaune, one of Twist's bartenders, who created sake cocktails for the Bon Appetít grub crawl and has carried the list over to Koi. (The sake of choice is Gekkeikan.)
The most complex of these cocktails contains the fewest ingredients: just sake and St. Germain, which "can be overpowering in a drink, and sake has such a mild flavor," Jacob notes. The Sake Blossom is plummy and faintly flowery.
The Sake Thyme Lemonade and Sake Ginger Mint Syrup are each based on infused simple syrups, strained and blended with chilled sake. I haven't tried the lemonade variety, but enjoyed the ginger-forward heat, followed by sake's grassy coolness, in the other.
Try all three sake cocktails in a $1 flight during Koi's happy hour, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.
You'll also find a wide range of chilled sakes - unfiltered, organic, green tea, sparkling - at the adjacent Mike's on the Avenue.
Koi at Twist Lounge, 628 St. Charles Ave., 523.7600
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