The Japanese word for awesome is “Sugoi”.  I learned this today but could really have used it yesterday, while having lunch with a friend at the Japanese restaurant Sake 23 in St. Petersburg.  “Sugoi” describes my experience from the moment I stepped into the modern, beautiful space to the presentation of the food, garnished with exotic specialties and edible orchids. This is a place you’ll want to sample as many items from the bar and menu as possible and what’s really “Sugoi”, is the abundance of sampling opportunities where you can taste lots of things in small portions, like bento boxes, sake, and Japanese whiskey flights, and sushi boats loaded with a cargo of rolls, sushi and sashimi. This place is as special as cherry blossoms against a bright blue sky and for anyone who loves great food and drinks Sake23 shouldn’t be missed.  

23 Kinds of Sake

The name of the restaurant references the number of kinds of Sake available on the menu.  Along with straight sake, you can also select from a variety of sakes infused with the flavors of honey, hazelnut, cucumber, and coffee. There are cocktails made with sake as well as sake sangrias. We sampled six different sakes including a plum sake called “Blossom of Peace”, Manobito which is a dry premium sake, and an ultra-premium Konteki Pearls of Simplicity. The Pearls of Simplicity has a wonderfully rich mouth-feel. My eyes lit up when I tasted this sake! It was so smooth, so lush and unlike anything I’ve ever had before. The best and biggest sake bar in Tampa Bay!  

To Go with Great Appetizers

Sake is often served with light meals and appetizers, and Sake23 offers a great selection of appetizers to get your party started. The edamame is served warm and covered with bonito flakes that are smoked and shaved razor-thin. The heat from the warm edamame causes them to dance as if by magic. It’s all part of the theatrical presentation of the food at Sake 23. The brussels sprouts were described by my friend, Debbie, as “a little slice of heaven”. They are wok fried with a little balsamic nitsume and topped with house-made siracha peanuts that provide a nice crunch and a mild heat.  Not overpowering. Just right.

Japanese Comfort Food

The popularity of ramen is on display at Sake 23. They offer three types of broth for chicken, tofu, sirloin, and pork belly plus a wide variety of vegetables.  This is Japanese comfort food. . . warm, rich and satisfying that brightens the spirit when things seem cold and grey.  If there is one thing on the menu you should not pass up, it’s the seared scallop. Sea scallops float on the bed of garlic parsnip mash studded with crispy pork belly.  This dish is perfection on every level. The mash is creamy and slightly sweet, the perfect foil for the crispy, salty pork belly! Then comes the seared crust of the scallop followed by its buttery, firm center.  So delicious, I could eat this every night and never grow tired of it.

Sushi Time

As you would expect, there is an extensive sushi and sashimi menu at Sake 23.  Every sense is stimulated by the major rolls. Bright colors are revealed by the beautiful cross-section slices, the balance of textures surprise and delight the tongue while flavor forward combinations of sauces, aoilis, and garnishes elevate this sushi to a lofty new place.  Among the major rolls we sampled, was the 23 Dragons, featuring tempura shrimp, salmon, and avocado. The category 5 roll showcases spicy tuna, cream cheese, and asparagus, all topped with a dome of kabayaki, chili aioli, a crab mix, and scallion. The High Roller roll was my favorite.  This roll was filled with snow crab, tuna and cream cheese, then gloriously topped with toasted coconut and spicy mayo. That coconut-spicy mayo combination did it for me! The sweetness from the crab and coconut on the tip of my tongue gave way to a blossoming warmth of the spicy mayo on the back of my throat.  It’s a perfect surprise ending in each slice. This roll is worth the trip to Sake 23 and the trip back again!

Sake 23 is an experience in beauty. The space is bright, open and modern and the opportunities to indulge in exotic flavors, diverse textures and visual stimulation are endless. Whether it’s a quick lunch and a sake bomb, a quiet weeknight dinner over ramen or an over-the-top sushi boat to mark any one of the celebrations of life, Sake 23 is “Sugoi” and shouldn’t be missed. Open for lunch and dinner, Sake 23 is located on the corner of 4th Street and 5th Avenue north.     

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Cover photo courtesy of Sake23