Sake is a wonderfully complex alcoholic drink that comes to us from Japan. Often called rice wine, it’s actually more like very strong flat beer, because it’s brewed from rice (or other grains) not fermented like wine.
Shochu is a distilled Japanese spirit, also made from rice, and I enjoy combining the two during a meal, or sometimes spending evenings dedicated to one or the other.
Downtown Los Angeles, AKA DTLA, has exploded with new bars and restaurants on every corner. Considering the area was already home to the city’s Little Tokyo neighborhood, DTLA is now the epicenter for sake bars in Los Angeles. Here’s a look at the sake landscape of DTLA and four suggested places to enjoy it:
Reliable – Yojie
Yojie (501 West Olympic #102), on the edge of DTLA and close to the Staples Center, this is a fondue and shabu shabu (tableside BBQ) Japanese restaurant with a huge selection of sake. It’s considered by foodie Angelenos as one of the best spots to enjoy a traditional Japanese meal in Los Angeles. It’s got a very clean, modern, stylish vibe along with knowledgeable servers, which is essential for a good sake experience.
Old school – Koraku
Koraku (314 2nd Street) is a what I would call a Japanese diner, I think it’s more properly called a ramen house. It’s got a real old-school vibe and it’s been a fixture in Little Tokyo for years. It’s also open very late, sometimes until 3 or 4 a.m. They serve only a few varieties of sake, but they are real Japanese examples. Koraku also serves Shochu, which is the distilled rice spirit, which makes an interesting comparison to sake.
New school – BottleRock
BottleRock (1050 South Flower) Near the Staples Center, BottleRock is a bar and a full wine store with a surprisingly good selection of sake. It’s also a full-service restaurant with entrees and complete meals. Sake bought in the shop can be enjoyed in the restaurant, and the menu also features a nice variety that can be enjoyed by the glass.
Classy – Gallery Bar at The Biltmore
The Gallery Bar (506 South Grand Avenue) is a beautiful space in one of the city’s original grand hotels. The Millennium BIltmore is in the heart of DTLA and the lavish Gallery Bar features a wide variety of sakes. They are especially good when enjoyed on the hotel’s sushi nights, Thursday and Friday starting at 5 p.m. On those evenings, a sushi chef sets up in the bar and creates fresh sushi rolls and other bites until 10 p.m. Live jazz completes the experience.
More from this contributor:
Top 5 Restaurants in Hong Kong for a great Sunday Brunch
LA’s Best Luxury Hotel Restaurants – Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel
A Visit to Grand Park in DTLA