Sakai Bar is an intimate restaurant for sake enthusiasts and lovers of Japanese country cuisine.
Boasting a small menu of Japanese eats that eschews sushi completely, this cozy 22-seater joins the growing number of Toronto restaurants trying to change the perception of what a traditional Japanese menu should be.
The dimly-lit establishment comes by way of Stuart Sakai—a certified sake professional with a decade of experience at Toronto's highly lauded, now-closed Black Hoof under his belt.
If you're looking to get into the complex world of Japanese rice wine, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better guide.
Stuart is well-practiced at touring sake amateurs through the Distillery's Ontario Spring Water Sake Company and will be more than happy to guide you through Sakai's growing list of diverse sakes.
There's a drink for all taste buds here: from light and aromatic to umami-heavy flavours sold by 30-oz. glasses, 9-oz. carafes or full bottles. Regardless the flavour, freshness is pretty much guaranteed.
The day we visit, Stuart proudly shows us a bottle of Takasago Junmai Daiginjo ($200) from Mie prefecture's Kiyasho Shuzo brewery; a sake that's not only rare in Canada but in Japan as well.
You can get your sake chilled or heated—the latter will grant you the option of choosing your vessel from Stuart's personal collection of cups that range from stoneware by way of New York to hand-painted Ichikawa cups.
Sakai will soon be introducing a menu of otsumami: snacks that pair well with alcohol. In the meantime, they offer a lean menu of simple dishes—hence the country component—that pairs just fine.
A plate of pickles ($5) is an essential order here as it's one of the things Sakai does best.
A handful of pickle types include nukazuke (veggies pickled in rice bran, a specialty), delicious takuan (daikon radish), and fukujinzuke, the popular seven-veggie relish typically served with Japanese curry.
An order of duck and spinach ($14) is a small but flavourful plate of duck breast steamed in dashi.
It's served on a bed of juicy spinach, that goes particularly well with a simple bowl of rice ($3).
You can also spruce up your rice with some basic add-ons, like a delicious soy-cured yolk ($1.50).
If you're hungry, a decked out bowl of rice will guarantee a filling meal along with a couple other orders.
The tonkatsu sando ($16), while not necessarily an age-old staple, is a classic Japanese comfort dish.
It's Sakai's version is a basic rendition that comes on white bread, with a little hot mustard to give the thick chunk of tender pork cutlet some kick.
Homey Japanese dishes might soon surpass the call of sushi rolls if made with Sakai-level attentiveness. If you're looking for a low-key night of sake to pair with refined Japanese dishes cooked with care, a visit past these sliding doors won't disappoint.