Joining the legion of upstart businesses in downtown St. Petersburg, the Sake Bomb has opened the proverbial can of rice wine with no intention of closing it.
Unlike other shoulder-to-shoulder downtown dive bars like the Emerald and Durty Nelly's serving up pissy domestics from the tap and $5 imports, Sake Bomb specializes in that centuries-old delicacy that found its origins in the spitty rice meal of Japanese monks: sake.
Despite its colloquial description as "rice wine," the brewing process of sake is closer to that of beer. Unlike wine, which ferments from the sugars already present in the fruit, rice does not ferment without a certain amount of outside help. After a process of polishing, soaking, and cooking the rice, the mash is treated with a special kind of mold and left to culture for two days, then mixed into a moto mash with water and yeast, which begins the fermentation process. The resulting libation tastes much like wine because of its lack of carbonation, typically clear appearance, and light flavor. Hence, the name, "rice wine."
That said, sake is neither beer, nor wine, nor liquor, although it is versatile enough to stand in for all three. Sake Bomb's owners, Tai and Tom Truong, have taken full advantage of its versatility, offering a wide selection of "saketinis" and cocktails that substitute sake for liquor with delightful results, as well as a few specialty mixtures you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Options include the Black Samurai, a sake-and-soy-sauce mixture that tastes a helluva lot like stir-fry with dangerous, dinner-replacing accuracy, and the Rising Sun, an orange creamsicle-like dessert beverage with nary an alcoholic twinge. (Beware of the "Geisha" shot. It may taste like a lemon drop, but that thing is potent.)
Oh, and remember that statement about sake replacing beer? You can watch the Bucs every Sunday at Sake Bomb with a (sake) Bloody Mary in hand. Or, if you're not that into football but seek another specialty beverage, check out the popular sake Mojito, complete with a sprig of mint on top and a refreshing aftertaste of lime.
Apart from the cocktails and saketinis, Sake Bomb serves hot and cold sake by the shot (choko), flask (tokkuri), or bottle. House sake is served hot, with a variety of cold sakes ranging from (vegan-friendly) organic to unfiltered, filtered and high-volume. High-quality sake is typically served cold, although serving temperature also depends on personal preference and season (hot sake is usually enjoyed during the winter and cold sake during the summer). Heating sake runs the risk of killing the aroma and the flavor, replacing it with a dry, bitter aftertaste. Many restaurants mask the low quality of their sake by heating it and adding artificial flavors. Rule of thumb: if you pay $20 for a bottle of sake, order it chilled.
Still not sure what kind of sake is right for you? Popular Sake Bomb choices include the high-volume Momokawa Pearl and a Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu with hints of pineapple and vanilla. I caution you in jumping right into the Pearl, though. Most sakes range between 12 and 18 percent alcohol by volume, and at 18 percent, this thing is a bit advanced.
If you're just starting out, try a middle-of-the-road sake, something like the Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama. It's popular because of its unusual cloudy appearance. Because it's organic and unfiltered, it's a bit thicker going down, but has a milky taste that makes it easier to stomach. It's also vegan friendly.
Not a big fan of sake? No worries. Tai and Tom made sure Sake Bomb was enjoyable for beer-gutted good ol' boys, too. In addition to its sake selection, the bar offers $1.50 Bud Select and PBR on tap, as well as a selection of 18 beers in the bottle and a variety of wines, including plum and cherry. From time to time, they even drop the cost of tap down to a dollar.
There's no liquor served here, but they are working with nearby Sushi Rock Grill to offer a small menu of sushi and traditional Japanese appetizers to couple with their drink menu. And those of you looking for a bit of entertainment will be delighted by the kung fu flicks Tai and Tom continuously play on the flat screen hovering above the bar. They've got the whole Bruce Lee box set.