When I walked into Yosaku in Portland on a recent Saturday night, I was overwhelmed at how busy the small Japanese restaurant was.
“Are there two seats at the bar?” I asked the hostess by the door.
She directed me toward the right-hand side of the restaurant and slapped menus down in front of two seats at the bar. I guess I should have been more specific, however, because the bar where she sat Peter and I was the sushi bar, not the cocktail bar.
Turns out there weren’t two seats at the cocktail bar for us anyway. The cocktail bar is short, with only about six bar stools. The sushi bar is about twice as long.
And while I’m one who enjoys watching bartenders mix cocktails, I was even more fascinated by the chefs working on elaborate sushi rolls in front of me. Their nimble fingers worked quickly as they communicated with each other in Japanese. With a busy restaurant, they were all business and remained extremely focused.
I was so caught up watching them, I forgot to even look at the bar menu before our waitress came around. While Yosaku offers a full selection of white and red wines, its true specialty is a range of sake selections. If you’re a fan of sake, you could spend anywhere between $5 for a small carafe of Ozeki Hot Sake up to $40 for Komatsu Tatewaki “Samurai” Taru Sake.
Yosaku also has four beers on tap. Peter tried the Kirin Ichiban for $4.50, which he said was a very tasty beer. For those uninterested in branching out to try something different, the bar has Allagash and Geary’s seasonal.
The list of specialty cocktails is limited to seven, ranging from $7 to $8, but the bar is fully stocked. A couple of ladies sitting nearby were sipping on some Cosmos that were a light shade of pink.
And these cocktails weren’t served in your typical martini glass. Instead, Yosaku has the perfect solution to keeping your drink chilled without watering it down: The cup of the martini glass, minus the stem, rested nicely in a small fish bowl-shaped glass filled with ice. Not only did it keep their drinks cold, it made for a fancy way to serve the cocktail.
While Yosaku offers beer, wine, sake and cocktails, it’s not the kind of bar you’d go to hang out with a group of friends. But it’s a great spot to meet a friend or take a date. It’s less about the drinks and more about the experience.
Peter and I enjoyed the entertainment of the sushi chefs. Folks sitting behind us enjoyed traditional Japanese seating, barefoot and sitting on the floor at low tables. If you’re not interested in sitting on the floor or at the bar, Yosaku does have regular dining tables as well.
It’s a fun place to go for something different and try something new, whether that’s different sake or a more adventurous sushi roll.
Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.