Best known for fresh seafood from the waters of the nearby Gulf of Mexico, Southwest Florida continues to improve its reputation as a place with a diversity of offerings for those with international tastes. One specialty that has witnessed recent gains is greater access to Japanese cuisine. While sushi is a natural fit for the area, residents of this corner of the Sunshine State possess growing options for sampling sake wine.
Made from fermented rice, this traditional Japanese drink provides a pleasant taste, and is a very functional alcoholic drink. Though it drinks similar to wine, sake possesses many of the qualities of both liquor and beer. Sake generally possesses a reduced alcohol content (no greater than 20% by volume) and is often highlighted by fruit flavors of significance to life in Japan.
While sake is a perfect drink for relaxing at a bar with friends, it is commonly found at Japanese restaurants and sushi bars in order to compliment an exotic meal. This rice wine can be served either chilled or hot and makes for a memorable drink in which to raise a toast.
Here is a look at four options for enjoying sake in Southwest Florida.
Blu Sushi, Fort Myers
With two locations in Fort Myers, this hot spot may be the region’s premier location for enjoying a full selection of sake wine. The original Blu Sushi at 13451 McGregor Blvd. is perfectly situated for easy access from downtown, Fort Myers Beach, and Cape Coral. Meanwhile, the newer Gulf Coast Town Center facility sits off Interstate 75, just a short drive from Naples and Lehigh Acres. Blu Sushi nobly combines great food with a fun atmosphere. Both locations are open seven days per week and feature “Sake2Me Saturdays,” when all bottles are discounted by 20-percent.
Blu’s fresh seafood menu is top-notch and filled with a wide variety of tempting sushi and sashimi platters. Yet, it is the restaurant’s “outrageous cocktails” that often steal attention. Offering more than a dozen sake selections, chilled rice wine can be ordered by the glass or by the bottle. Choices largely originate from Japan, but growers from California and Oregon also appear on the menu. Two varieties of hot sake are additionally available. Try a bottle of Junmai Ginjo/Pure Dawn ($24 per bottle), which is grown in Akita, Japan, and provides a fresh taste with subtle notes of pear and Fuji apple.
Sumo Sushi Sake, Naples
Opening in February 2013, Sumo Sushi Sake has rapidly improved options for obtaining tasty Japanese food and drinks in Naples. Located off Airport Pulling Road, at 6438 Naples Blvd., Sumo Sushi Sake is a smaller facility with a contemporary design. Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, the business stays open till 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night, and is closed on Sundays. It further offers many fun and practical features, including an eye-catching bamboo and granite-topped bar, blue-hued surrounding lighting, a drive-thru service for grabbing food on-the-go, and an all-you-can-eat lunch special, highlighted by several sushi choices for $16.95 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Sumo’s sake selections capably complement this impressive line-up of food. Offered at reasonable prices by the glass or by the bottle, six different chilled sake wines are available, as well as house hot sake in small and large sizes. With a reduced alcohol content, try the tempting Hana Lychee ($32 per bottle, $9 per glass), which works nicely straight-up or on the rocks. This sake delivers an intense flavor and aroma from the addition of the exotic Japanese fruit. Happy hour at Sumo runs between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and features numerous drink specials, including a “buy one, get one” on house wine selections.
Kumo Japanese Steakhouse, Cape Coral
Kumo Japanese Steakhouse has quickly expanded its presence in Southwest Florida, with locations recently sprouting up from Sarasota to Fort Myers. The new Cape Coral establishment, at 2517 Santa Barbara Blvd near Veterans Pkwy., offers residents of this growing city in west Lee County a closer destination for Japanese cuisine. The restaurant’s emphasis is on hibachi-style cooking, which is available for lunch and dinner. The “Cape Coral Hibachi Special” is a popular choice, providing clear soup, house salad with ginger dressing, hibachi vegetables, and fried rice with a choice of filet mignon, calamari, or scallops for $28.95.
Open daily, many sushi choices are also available at Kumo, including diverse appetizers, sashimi, platters, rolls, and more. With a wide variety of Japanese food, one would expect appropriate complimentary drinks. Yet, the choices for sake wine are minimal at Kumo of Cape Coral, and patrons should be aware of that limitation. If wanting to add an extra touch to a meal, hot sake is served by the jar, and reasonably priced at $4.95. The traditional toast word is “Kanpai,” so be sure to practice your Japanese when touching cups of sake. With a similarly light alcohol content, but generally sweeter taste, Kumo serves a house plum wine at $6.00 per glass, which nicely fits hibachi-style food.
Ichiban Japanese and Chinese Cuisine, Fort Myers
Located at 1520 Broadway, in the heart of the Fort Myers River District, this restaurant is adjacent to the historic Hotel Indigo. Though it may not rival the quality of similar establishments in larger cities, Ichiban is beloved by residents for being among the first to bring greater diversity of food to the downtown area. Indeed, the neighboring boutique hotel is surrounded by an array of nightlife, but this eatery stands alone in providing quality Asian food, as well as a good spot by the Caloosahatchee River to grab cocktails, Kirin Japanese beer, and several varieties of sake wine.
Open seven days per week, parking is a challenge due to location, especially in the evening hours when downtown bars and clubs see brisk business. Like many other locations operating under similar names, Ichiban offers an ambitious menu — which includes a full array of Mandarin Chinese food — at affordable prices. Naturally, sushi and sashimi selections are popular with guests, who can choose to sit around a modest, but traditional wooden counter-top bar. The sake offerings are not extensive, but visitors can compliment a meal with chilled or hot sake, which is otherwise hard to find in downtown Fort Myers.