Flavor: Hello moto

You’re still drinking what? How last year is that? Goodbye Cosmos, Mojitos, tequila shooters and the rest: The hip new drink is sake.

Maybe you tried it in the distant past — say, 2007 — served warm from little pottery tchotchkes. Wrong. And Blake Richardson is here to mend those ways.

Call him the Johnny Appleseed of rice wine: While he’s been brewing quality beers at Herkimer’s, the man’s been moonlighting as a sake aficionado — OK, fanatic — and, after years of research, visits to Japan, book learning and hands-on apprenticeship, he’s now turning rice into his favorite elixir at Lyn-Lake’s  moto-i, the only sake brewpub in the U.S., he says, and one of only two worldwide.

The front of the former Macchu Pichu has been tastefully transformed into an izikaya: a Japanese establishment serving sake that also offers compatible snacks on the side. In the back room loom the tall steel tanks that do the heavy lifting, where Richardson acts as his own brewmaster. He’s currently producing three distinct sakes (more to come). You want to know how? Just read the back of the menu. Here, let’s just say, as Richardson does, "It’s fermented similarly to beer; both are based on cereal grains," yeast and water. "Sake has more flavor components than wine," he’s quick to add. And it’s roughly the same in alcohol (just a titch higher, at 14–18 percent). Like wine or beer, sip it cold. Heating is simply a cheap trick to hide flaws in inferior sake and dissipates its flavor.

Wait a minute. I was drinking those passé Cosmos a minute ago: What’s a sake virgin to do? One choice: Submit to the guidance of the staff, who have undergone what Richardson calls "extensive"  training (I can think of crueler words, like sake boot camp), including mastering blind tastings and surviving a "very difficult" 50-question test.

Better yet, opt for the sampler: Three 2-ounce portions ($12) that includes junmai nama — light yet robust, with a hint of melon; the best-selling junmai nama genshu — drier and more hearty, yet with a hint of sweetness; and junmai nama nigori, created by a looser pressing that leaves a cloudy appearance and more mouth texture, as well as a slightly drier taste. Soon Richardson plans to sell 750 ml (wine-size) bottles to go as well.

Bar snacks? You betcha. How about some familiar items with an Asian twist, like taro shoestrings served with spicy chili mayo? Or karaage: deepfried chicken bits marinated in soy sauce? Ribs braised with spicy soy? Or summon the baby octopus with seaweed or dried squid with wasabi mayo for those jaded palates who think they’ve tasted everything. With snack prices mostly in the $3–$6 range, you can’t go wrong. Lots of Chinese-style buns, dumplings and noodle dishes also appear on the menu, as well as plenty of vegetarian offerings. Tell you what: I’m coming back for the sake rice pudding, too. But that’s another story.

moto-i        
2940 Lyndale Ave. S.
821-6262
www.moto-i.com