Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Birth of Sake

I urgently want to share that a great movie is currently available this week in NYC.

The Birth of Sake is a documentary film that explores how sake is handcrafted at a family-owned Japanese brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture. The movie is having a special screening till March 24, 2015 at the IFC Center in Manhattan, NY. This is a must to see movie for anyone interested in sake, Japanese food and its culture.


In a world where most mass produced goods are heavily automated, a small group of artisans must brave unusual working conditions to preserve a 2000-year-old tradition that we have come to know as saké. THE BIRTH OF SAKÉ is a cinematic documentary that reveals the story of passionate saké-makers and what it takes to make world-class saké at Yoshida Brewery, a 144-year-old family-owned small brewery in northern Japan. The workers at Yoshida Brewery are an eclectic cast of characters, ranging from 20 to 70 years old. As a vital part of this cast that must live and work for a six-month period through the brutal winter, charismatic veteran brewmaster Yamamoto (65) and the brewery’s sixth-generation heir, Yasuyuki Yoshida (27), are keepers of this tradition, and are the main characters who bring the narrative forward. Currently, stiff competition and the eventual retirement of experienced workers intensify the pressure of preserving quality of taste, tradition and brand reputation for Yoshida Brewery. As craftsmen who must dedicate their whole lives to the making of this world-class saké, their private sacrifices are often sizable and unseen.

94 Minutes, In Japanese with English subtitles, USA

Tribeca Film Festival: Special Jury Mention, Best New Documentary Director

Palm Springs International Film Festival: John Schlesinger Award for Debut Documentary


Here is the review of NY Times.

Mr. Shirai nicely shuffles in the back stories of several workers, and his shots of sky, sea and early morning landscapes could fit amid Hokusaiwoodcuts. At 94 minutes, the film’s pacing drags at times. But as Mr. Yamamoto might say, it takes what it takes. You can’t rush the process.

Totto Ramen – Hell’s Kitchen

After a great concert at Lincoln Center my friends from Texas and I were hungry and not willing to go back home with a craving for more Japanese food. Yakitori Totto in the aforementioned post was absolutely perfect, but at this time we were in the mood for ramen. And given that Texas isn’t exactly known for its ramen, I wanted to take them somewhere where I knew the noodles would be delicious.


I have been Totto Ramen on the East Side a few times already, but I had never been to the location in Hell’s Kitchen. It was a little before midnight and the wait was about 15-20 minutes; we placed our order outside which saved a little time when we were seated. As always, I ordered my standard miso ramen. Chicken broth is normally lighter than pork (tonkatsu or tonkotsu) broth which I like more. Here they offered a thick and creamy soup but never tasted greasy. The broth was very flavorful and lighter than typical broths made from meat.


There were other interesting selections on the menu that were not ramen. One of my friends wanted to try something different and ordered a Pork Don and a pork bun. The former is shredded pork on rice and the bun contained delicious pork belly. And even though Totto Ramen is a true ramen restaurant, my friend said he would return just to get the pork dishes again.

It was almost 1:30 am when we finished eating and there was still a line to get in when we left! I highly recommend this small, cozy restaurant. And having visited two of the busiest Japanese restaurants in the city in one day I felt accomplished!!


Price: $14+ for ramen, Cash Only

Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen

Dress code: Casual

Noise level: Lively

Dining alone: Yes, counter is available

Yakitori Totto

I always keep a few restaurants on my “to try” list but often find it difficult to either find the time or pull myself away from my usual favorites. Yakitori Totto is one of those restaurants that has been on my list for quite a while. Yakitori means grilled (yaki) chicken (tori) in Japanese, and by definition the chicken should be served on skewers. However, recently I’ve noticed that the word yakitori is often used for other types of skewered items (whether it is a protein or vegetables) when eating in a traditional “yakitori” establishment.


Yakitori Totto only takes reservations at 5:30 pm which is a little too early for me to eat dinner. But an opportunity arose when I had friends visiting from Texas and we were seeing an 8:00 performance at nearby Lincoln Center. Surprisingly, a line of about 20 people deep was already formed when I arrived at 5:15 – but we managed to get the last available table. Otherwise it would have been quite a wait. As soon as we got settled and had a chance to review the expansive menu, I ordered a few yakitori options to get started. Momo (pieces of chicken thigh), Nume (chicken breast), Tebasaki (wing) and Tsukune (chicken meatballs) would be what I consider to be the “standard” for a yakitori selection.


Needless to say all yakitori selections exceeded our expectations, and the Tsukune was my personal favorite – very tender and juicy compared to traditional meatballs. One difference is that normally in Japan we would dip the meatball in a beaten raw egg. But here we had a delicious teriyaki-style sauce (tare) which we all loved . . . so much so that we each ordered a second portion! We then ordered several side dishes from a nice izakaya menu. We chose Agedashi tofu (a simple Japanese way to serve hot tofu), edamame, Buta Kakuni (tender simmered pork), and some pickles to share.


Everything was so oishii! We wanted to order more but had to leave for the show. When we left the restaurant around 7:15 or so, the line to get in was even longer that when we arrived!

Price: $50 per person including tip, several beers and a medium bottle of sake

Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen

Dress code: Smart casual

Noise level: Lively as it is an open grill concept