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PiDGiN's Brandon Grossutti's Passion For Sake

After receiving a glowing review in the New York Post for their pairing of their ultra-global menu and artisanal sakes and scoring a top five place on enRoute's prestigious Best New Restaurants list, we spoke with co-owner Brandon Grossutti about his passion for Asian spirits.
[Photo via PiDGiN/Eydis Einarsdottir]

What's at the heart of your fascination with sake, shochu and soju?
Sake to me is a homage to how the chef cooks. We built this place for a year, then tasted for 6 months and we got better and learned more about the milling and the rice process. Then when we opened more people came at us bringing in really interesting products. The suppliers pushed the envelope for us; we're so lucky - people are stupid-excited about what we're doing here.

What is it about the taste?
shochu is a fucking awesome product; the flavour profile is so different from any other spirit that you'll ever taste, the way it hits your tongue, it's hitting on the back, you're not getting a huge alcohol aftertaste as opposed to Western spirits where you've got a 40% proof. I drink it with an ice ball, I can sit there and sip through two courses of my meal and love it and it doesn't interfere and it doesn't dominate. I can sit there and eat the most subtle dish and this will compliment it.

PidginClaw.jpgYou have ice ball makers on the bar - is that a big deal when drinking these kinds of spirits?
Shochu can be in and of itself as strong as some of your most hard-core spirits. When you sit there with an ice ball and let it melt in just right, you find your perfect time to drink that drink.That's the great thing about an ice ball; there's like this period - unlike an ice cube, where you've got two minutes where you're loving that drink and then it's diluted - where an ice ball will melt just right and then you've got 10 minutes with that drink, right where you love it.

PiDGiN are hosting regular sake dinner events, are you trying to educate people to pair their food with sake?
There's a reason people have been eating and drinking this way in Japan and Korea for millennia, it fucking makes sense so you don't fuck with it. I can do a pairing all night long with sakes you've never tasted in this city before. We can ride you on ten courses of amazing sakes. There are very few places that aren't straight up Japanese that can do that in this city. In fact there's none. So - we want to be able to take the spirits that we're passionate about whether it's shochu or soju and be able to say - here is their place.

So - what if you're a total newbie to these spirits?
Sit and chat with us. What I love is customers come in for the first time and they start with wine. On their second visit they'll start to ask about sake and we'll introduce them slowly, try to get them into it. The gateway is Masa's Granville Island Sake because he's famous locally. It's mild, floral, fresh, really nice; we were the first to keg it in the city. We pushed him to do it and he put us through this crazy interview process as to whether we could give enough reverence to his products. He was apprehensive to do it in a keg but we talked him through it, how it would be done - it's in stainless steel so there is zero leeching of flavours - it's better than putting it into bottles because you don't get oxidation, it's going straight from his still to our keg.

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