The most important alcoholic beverage in Japan is SAKE. It’s called “the drink of the gods” and has a long history dating back for centuries. This fermented rice and water drink is used in religious ceremonies and is enjoyed by many in the social setting among friends and family. Interestingly, sake is believed to possess health benefits and promote youthful, smooth skin. At Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Hot Springs Amusement Park and Spa Resort in Japan patrons can soak in a sake bath and look beautiful from head to toe! Now, that’s a lot of sake!
While the idea of soaking in a sake bath might be appealing to some, foodies will find the following sake experience more appealing: Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese inspired spa resort/oasis in Santa Fe, opened a sake restaurant called IZANAMI. In fact, the James Beard Foundation recently named it a semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant.”
What a brilliant idea to pair spa treatments with sake tasting! The Turquoise Table decided a visit to Ten Thousand Waves would be a perfect girlfriend day trip to get away, relax and educate our palates!
The high desert oasis is located just 10 minutes north of Santa Fe away from the busy, touristy part of town. Two oxygen facials, a salt glow treatment and a therapeutic massage later, we were feeling pampered and ready for lunch at Izanami. The restaurant resembles a modern day Japanese farmhouse set among the evergreens. The setting is spiritual and zen-like. The main dining area has a very high ceiling with large hanging paper lanterns, an open kitchen on one end, booth seating in the middle, and a room with traditional Japanese zashiki style floor seating on the other end (perfect for playing footsie if you’re on a date ). The restaurant serves izkaya dining which is the perfect way to enjoy sake tasting with small plates of food shared among friends.
We were equally excited about the food and sake- we had been waiting weeks for this day to arrive. There are plenty of small plates to choose from with many of the ingredients locally sourced and organic: roasted beet salad, house made gyoza, Japanese sweet potatoes, sake braised shimeji mushrooms, pork ribs (heritage St. Louis ribs), nami burger (local wagyu beef), kakiage (tempura battered shredded vegetables), and bokchoy. Each dish was very well prepared and plenty enough for sharing. With the very first bite of velvety shimeji mushrooms, we were in paradise!
The sake menu is very impressive with over 40 different sakes to choose from. Reading the descriptions of all the sakes took a while, and to say the very least, was very entertaining. There are 4 general groups of sake- fragrant, bright; tart, sweet; rich, mellow; clean, refined. In each of these 4 groups, there are about 8-10 different sakes to choose from. If you are unfamiliar with sake and just want to explore, Izanami offers flights of sake with each flight consisting of 3 sakes from one group. Being the inexperienced sake drinker that I am, I was expecting the sakes to be harsh and astringent (and gagging). But I was pleasantly surprised. Many of them were smooth going down the throat and complex in taste. Sparkling sake is also available.
After a few flights, we were having a really good time! The zen-like atmosphere was replaced with loud laughter, hip-hop singing, and tangential conversations about anything, everything and most importantly which sake to order next. With descriptions like “cabin in the snow,” “euphoria,” “yuri’s sword,” or “four diamonds,” how can you not order more? The descriptions were so entertaining that by the end of our meal, each of us had chosen a personal sake name to commemorate the occasion- Moon Glow, Crazy Milk, Umami Bomb and Fragrant Jewel- can you guess who’s who?
It was hard to end such a perfect meal but all good things must come to an end. After having dessert, we headed back to The Duke City with XM Radio blaring 80s and 90s music. Tumbleweeds were blowing across the highway and thoughts of returning to our daily routines weren’t a bother. After all…it had been a perfect day!
Date visited: March 2014