NYC Shinnenkai 2012
Japanese love their parties and they love their drinks. To show just how much, they have both a bonenkai (忘年会) and shinnenkai (新年会) parties. Bonenkai is a party to “forget” the past year, usually held in December. Shinnenkai is a party to welcome the new year, usually coinciding with the lunar (Chinese) new year.
We had the good fortune to be invited to the Sake Shinnenkai hosted by certified sake sommelier (Kiki-Sake-Shi きき酒師) Chizuko Niikawa (photo on lower right) of Sake Discoveries. The event was held at Kasadela, a lovely izakaya in the Lower East Side (11th Street between Avenues B & C).
The intimate venue was perfect for a gathering of 40 or so guests. Chizuko-san was kind enough to bring sake from her personal collection including many kinds that cannot be found in the United States. Kumiko Kurosawa of Hakkaisan Sake, the sponsor of the event, brought several examples of her company’s sake along with a bottle of the delicious moromi shochu, Yoroshiku Senman Arubeshi, straight from Japan.
A limited number of Hakkaisan sake cups got the crowd in a friendly furor as we played rock-paper-scissors against Kumiko-san to take home one of the porcelain baubles. I won on the first round, but things got tense as the cups disappeared. Even more frenetic was the efforts by guests to win Hakkaisan aprons. Laughter and a feeling of bonhomie (Japanese onyo 温容) spread throughout the room.
The chef at Kasadela managed to pair food perfectly with the sake selections. The menu began with iburigakko, a pickled radish from Chizuko-san’s hometown. The rich, smokey flavor of the pickling was unlike anything I’ve ever had. This was followed by fried peppers and potatoes, squid and daikon in a sweet/savory broth, miso roasted eggplant, Nagoya style chicken wings, seared duck and other dishes came out of the kitchen in an endlessly delicious stream of food.
For photos from the event, visit the Sake Discoveries facebook album. There you’ll see the cool bartender, the intimate dining room, and, randomly, me applauding something. Probably the hosts for such a memorable evening. If you’d like to attend a future event with this level of intimacy, quality, and all around perfection you should keep an eye on the Sake Discoveries facebook page and follow @SakeAndTheCity on twitter.
The guests were overwhelmingly happy with the meal, the sake, and the warmth of the hosts. This was the perfect way to ring in the new year and look forward to 12 months of great food, drink, and company.