The Art of Pairing Sushi and Sake at Ato Japanese Restaurant

In Japanese, the word ‘Ato’ means art. This name perfectly encapsulates the artistic Omakase experience at Ato Restaurant in Richmond Hill. 

Before the culinary experience began, we were presented with an array of sake bottles. Each one was covered in fascinating and intricate designs and hues. Needless to say, before we had even experienced a single sip, we knew that we had come to the right place. 

Over the course of our culinary adventure with Chef Linh, our group enjoyed freshly prepared sushi that was paired with two bottles of sake. Both bottles were different yet equally delicious, and further elevated each bite. 

Before diving into the specifics of each bottle, there are a few things that you should know about sake. First of all, sake is an alcoholic fermented rice beverage that requires many steps to produce, such as polishing the rice. The rice kernels are polished in order to remove the outer layer of each grain and reveal the starchy core. A premium sake will always have a higher polishing rate, which usually ranges between 30 to 50 percent. 

Like wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages, there are numerous types of sake. Each type is determined by factors such as the type of rice used, where it was produced, polish rate, or brewing and filtration processes. Some of the main types of Sake include Junmai, Honjozo, Ginjo, Daiginjo, Futsushu and so on. 

When it comes to the temperature at which sake should be enjoyed, there is no set rule. While sake can be consumed when it’s cool or warm, you should avoid extremely hot or cold conditions so that you do not alter the taste. If you’re looking for a bit of guidance, some sake experts say that Ginjo and Daiginjo are best served chilled in order to bring out their complex flavours and aromas. 

This brings us to the first bottle poured for us at Ato, which was a Mizubasho Junmai Daiginjo. This sake had notes of peach on the nose and flavours of melon and Asian pear on the palate. It had a creamy texture with a balanced, dry finish. Made with 100% Yamadanishiki rice and a 50% rice polish rate, Junmai Daiginjo is a form of premium sake. This bottle was produced by Nagai Brewery which was founded in 1886 in the village of Kawaba in Gunma Prefecture. 

This sake was served in an elegant glass that had a slightly curved opening and a decorative gold foil ball at the bottom. High-quality sake is generally served in a glass to reveal more of the flavours and aromas. 

The second bottle we sipped on was a Tengumai Junmai Daiginjo “50.” This is a new style of Daiginjo sake that was released in 2012. Also made from 100% Yamadanishiki rice with a 50% polish rate, there were notes of fresh pears and mint. It was light and smooth, which is a result of being aged for a shorter period of time.

This sake was made by Shata Shuzou Co., which was founded in 1823. The primary brand name is “Tengumai” which means “dance of the Raven Gods.” The Tengu are Folklore creatures in Japan, and it is said that the Tengu would start to dance after drinking their sake.

This sake was poured in a similar glass, but this time, the sides of the glass were straight. When a sake glass has upright edges, this tends to help the aromas rise and bring out more subtle characteristics.

As we savoured our last few sips, we acknowledged the true beauty of pairing professionally handcrafted sushi with excellent sake. Let’s just say that during the drive home, even with full stomachs, we all agreed that we were already craving the next time that we would get to be a part of such an artful dining experience.