SakaMai, a Downtown Sake Lounge with Upmarket Bites

Japanese-leaning small plates and beverages that go with them are the draw at SakaMai on the Lower East Side. Open since December in a neighborhood that's suddenly deep in Japanese food and drink, it has a lounge-y vibe, a sake sommelier and tasting salon, and a mixologist from East Village hideaway Angel's Share.

Chowhounds appear to be settling in comfortably. PatientWolf finds the food creative, refined, and well executed—especially a luxe version of chawan mushi, the Japanese savory custard, with foie gras and a nice textural contrast from roughly chopped duck. Another upmarket dish, heartily recommended by kosmose7, combines sea urchin and caviar on scrambled eggs (pictured); it's called Egg on Egg on Egg. Faultlessly fresh kanpachi comes with herbaceous accents from shiso, myoga, yuzu, and wasabi. For small h, the highlight was jerky-like dried eihire (skate) with citrusy, peppery yuzu kosho yogurt for dipping. (Misfires include roasted bone marrow overpowered by the accompanying steak tartare, which PatientWolf found "profoundly mustardy.")

As for drinks, 'hounds report the sake list is impressive and smartly matched with the menu. Among the house cocktails, one of the most memorable is the dark, smoky, alcohol-forward Ento (a.k.a. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes), made of Bulleit bourbon, Hanahato aged sake, Bénédictine liqueur, and bitters, and presented theatrically amid actual smoke. But small h advises that for $15, it's on the small side.

SakaMai [Lower East Side]
157 Ludlow Street (between Stanton and Rivington streets), Manhattan
646-590-0684

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Photo by Chowhound user kosmose7