Tabélog Tasting Event at Sakamai

Tabélog, the number one restaurant review website in Japan, has expanded to New York! For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tabélog, it basically runs the dining scene in Japan with more than 50 million monthly users and 4.7 million online reviews. In an attempt to make the New York version as popular and trustworthy as the Japanese site, the Tabélog team spent the summer hand picking 200 of New York’s top food bloggers to contribute to site content and give the best restaurant reviews possible. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the judges and participate in their first series of Tabélog Food Blogger Restaurant Awards this Fall.

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While there will be more awards throughout the year, the categories for this season were as follows:

  • Best Use of Truffles in a Dish
  • Best Overall Plate Display
  • Best Happy Hour Location
  • Best Steak in NYC
  • Best Ramen Noodles

To celebrate the first round of the Food Blogger Restaurant Awards, the Tabélog New York team hosted a meet and greet tasting event at the new LES-based Japanese fusion restaurant and sake bar, Sakamai. I had never been to Sakamai nor had I met anyone else associated with Tabélog, so I was anxious to see how the evening would unfold.

As I got out of the cab and passed a lot of bars I found myself at the weekend before (*sigh*), I walked into Sakamai to find a pretty impressive turnout. The staff checked off my name, gave me a box of personal Food by Skyler Tabélog business cards (nicer than my actual ones) and a gift bag. Then I naturally turned to the sake bar.

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I’m not an avid sake drinker (more of a sake bomber) but I decided to try a glass.
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Unfortunately, I could not find an English translation for this sake but I will say it was a lot lighter and much nicer than the sakes I am used to bombing into cheap beer. For sake lovers, world champion mixologist Shingo Gokan was there to make the best concoctions, and for classic wine/cocktail/beer drinkers like myself, there was another open bar with an assortment of beverages. I ended up trying the gin and coconut water cocktail (very sweet and a bit milky) and of course some white wine after that.

Sakamai’s menu is really all over the map with everything from Southern fried chicken confit to sea urchin and caviar on a bed of scrambled eggs. While the small plates offered at the Tabélog tasting event are not offered on the menu, they were just as diverse and some of the ingredient pairings were pretty off the wall.

Carrot purée with dash gelée and summer truffle

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Filet mignon tartare with sea urchin, wasabi mascarpone, crushed poached egg, and brioche toast

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Temari sushi with Tasmanian trout and caviar rouge

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Croquette with lobster, lardo iberico, sansho pepper and potato purée

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Tsukune slider with chicken, foie gras, caramelized onion, butterhead lettuce, and harissa aioli 

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Iberico pork on a farro salad

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Strawberry compote with mascarpone mousse and a truffled balsamic glaze

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I tried each one of these dishes and they were good, but they didn’t blow me away. This could be because they were sitting out on a table for an extended period of time, but I also just think some of them were unnecessarily overpowering. Take the carrot purée and the strawberry compote for example — the truffle was excessive. The slider was great but the foie gras wasn’t beaming with flavor, the iberico pork was a bit too chewy, the balsamic glaze overpowered the strawberry compote, and the steak tartare had so many different elements that I couldn’t really pinpoint how I felt about it. I thoroughly enjoyed the croquette and the temari sushi was pretty predictable, but I guess that’s a good thing when the rest is all over the place. This is not to say I didn’t like Sakamai — I just think the selection of dishes they chose to display were hard to grasp. I couldn’t get a sense of what the restaurant was really about, but I guess that is a reason for me to go back and try what’s on the actual menu. Let’s face it, catering to a group of food bloggers is hard.

After the tasting, we had the opportunity to hear from the Tabélog New York team and the owners of Sakamai. They gave us more information on the new restaurant and revealed this year’s Food Blogger Restaurant Awards winners (the results will be announced the public soon).
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Once the speeches were over, everyone was beaming with excitement for Tabélog’s New York launch. Although the event was supposed to end at 8:00 p.m., guests were allowed to stay for another drink from the open bar (cha ching) and hangout with the other bloggers and the Tabélog team.

Me with Anna Fatlowitz from Fatz Food and Brock Purpura from Tabélog New York

Needless to say, the tasting at Sakamai was such a great experience that made the extensive New York food blogger community a bit smaller. It was a delightful opportunity to meet the team and embark on a culinary adventure together. Stay tuned for the results!

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