Tiffany Soto wants to shatter the misconceptions Americans have about rice wine. “More often than not, Americans believe the hot battery acid they dropped in a beer the first time they had sushi was sake, and that’s all sake will ever be,” muses the enthusiastic beverage manager for the two restaurants at the 256-room Four Seasons Baltimore. “They either haven’t had access to premium or super-premium sakes, or likely no one ever explained there was a difference at all.”
Soto’s interest in sake began several years ago when she was a teaching assistant in Las Vegas. She found herself bombarded by queries from curious Japanese students of wine who wanted to learn more about their country’s native fermented rice beverage. Soto zealously began to study sake, even traveling to Japan to immerse herself in the culture and culinary scene.
To enlighten guests’ palates, she offers an impressive sake collection at PABU, chef Michael Mina’s modern nod to Japanese Izakaya-style dining. PABU’s 12 selections by the glass, priced $7 to $19, are broken down into user-friendly options based on region. These include light, easy-drinking styles from the north, and rich, earthy full-bodied sakes from the south.
The 91 selections served by the bottle, priced from $13 to $1,250 (bottle sizes vary), are categorized according to prefecture—the 47 jurisdictions into which Japan is divided. All sake is served in the venue’s collection of vintage ceramic cups. (PABU’s minimalist décor includes sake bottles and traditional earthenware vessels lined up on shelves.)
Soto hopes that the depth and breadth of her list will encourage as many guests as possible to order a glass—or a bottle—of a wine they perhaps have never had before.
PABU has already influenced sake sales in Baltimore; the city has become second only to New York for East Coast sales of the rice wine. Sake also finds its way onto the small seasonal cocktail list, in drinks like the Lemongrass Sour ($10), made with Grand Marnier, lemongrass syrup and an egg white, garnished with mint.
Not just Sake
Japan’s infatuation with Scotch-inspired whisky is also well represented at PABU in the four cocktails using Suntory spirits, each priced at $15. The Yakura 3.0 mixes Yamazaki 12 Year with chamomile tea and Benedictine; The Classic Lolita blends Hakashu 12 Year with Okinawa sugar and Old Fashioned and orange bitters. And those seeking a truly authentic whisky experience can take part in PABU’s whisky ceremony ($16 to $35), in which a patron’s preferred whisky is served with a hand-made ice sphere and pairing essences.
Sushi chef Ken Tominaga from Sonoma shines with small plates such as “Happy Spoons,” with oysters, uni, ikura and ponzu crème fraîche, meats grilled on the exposed robata, sushi and composed sashimi. PABU strives to reach out to their Harbor East neighbors and other residents and visitors of Charm City through a daily happy hour.The promotion includes half-off 300ml bottles of sake, $2.88 Sapporo drafts and sushi and oyster specials.
Industry nights on Wednesdays cater to other hospitality industry employees in the area with food and drink specials.
Soto’s overall goal for the beverage program at PABU? “To really reach out and touch as many people as possible, offering them the opportunity to experience something new and amazing.”