Expanding its global portfolio, Tao Group Hospitality opened a new restaurant on Dec. 6 at the Moxy Lower East Side hotel in New York City: Sake No Hana, a lively spot for contemporary Japanese cuisine. A reinvention of the original Sake No Hana in London (which closed in 2021), it joins more than 70 Tao properties, including the group’s Hakkasan restaurants and Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Cathédrale at the Moxy East Village in New York.
Tao’s chief culinary officer, Ralph Scamardella, worked with chefs Yoshi Kojima and Jason Hall to develop Sake No Hana’s menu, influenced partly by Japan’s casual izakaya bars. “The culinary vision behind Sake No Hana was really inspired by this invigorating sense of place melded with a bit of New York City flare,” Hall, who is Tao's vice president of culinary operations, told Wine Spectator via email. “The energy of [izakayas] is so closely intertwined with drinking, and we wanted to put together a really fun menu that pairs well with all kinds of wine, cocktails, beer and sake.” The restaurant brings in fish from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market and snow-aged sirloin from Niigata Prefecture.
Executive chef Nick Phongmekin leads the kitchen, where his team grills kushiyaki-style skewers over a traditional robata grill, cooks Japanese wagyu over binchotan charcoals and makes fresh sesame oil with a seed press. The menu is divided into six sections, with dishes such as amiyaki mushroom salad, Narikura-style pork tonkatsu, short rib yakimeshi (fried rice), bamboo branzino, A5 Miyazaki tenderloin and varied sushi.
Senior beverage director Nikki McCutcheon leads the wine program, which features 75 grape-based wines and 26 sakes arranged by style, including the local Brooklyn Kura. “We wanted to home in on the iconic varietals and producers that guests know and love,” McCutcheon explained. “Regions we knew would pair well with our cuisine, like Burgundy, were a big focus to highlight. Also, opening so close to New Year’s Eve, we had a bit of fun expanding our bubbly list!” Acclaimed wineries are featured throughout, like Australia’s Penfolds, France’s Guigal and Oregon’s Beaux Frères.
“We hope that guests find our list to be approachable with recognizable favorites, but also glimpses of new and interesting options,” said McCutcheon, who expects the beverage list to grow. “Our team is there to guide them through an experience, whether that be enjoying a pairing menu or decanting an ’09 Bordeaux.”
The Rockwell Group has designed Sake No Hana with flashes of the Lower East Side’s 1980s punk scene, and there are nods to Japan’s analogous yankii motorcycle subculture. The space features leather, metal and glass elements, along with long, kimono-like tapestries and—hanging from the dining room’s mirrored ceiling—lighting fixtures that recall traditional Japanese pottery. Other lights suggest lanterns, helping to establish the Moxy’s “pleasure garden” setting.
Tao’s fans can look forward to a new Cathédrale location in Las Vegas, set to open in spring 2023.
Ariete Team Opens Brasserie Laurel in Miami
The Miami dining scene has been growing ever-stronger this year, and there’s no sign of slowing. Earlier this month, following about three years of planning, chef-restaurateur Michael Beltran added a new downtown restaurant to his Ariete Hospitality Group: Brasserie Laurel, a French-inspired eatery in Miami’s Worldcenter complex.
“There are other great operators in that part of town,” Beltran told Wine Spectator via email. “We wanted to join that wave—I guess if you want to call it a ‘renaissance of downtown.’”
Across their menu, Beltran and executive chef Ashley Moncada give French classics their own spin, offering dishes like scallop with almond gazpacho, tuna with colatura di alici aioli, escargot with herb butter, frog legs almondine and venison tartare. For mains, guests can expect whole trout with rock shrimp, a pork chop with fennel and guinea fowl with chanterelles. Vegetable accompaniments and a caviar service add even more permutations. “Going back to the nuts and bolts of classic technique was something that inspired chef Ashley and myself,” Beltran explained. “[Laurel’s cuisine is] this beautiful, modern interpretation of classic technique and classic flavor profiles.”
Wine director Adrian Lopez has assembled more than 75 labels for the predominantly French-focused list, which is split into “Old World” and “New World” sections. Both the by-the-glass list of 15 wines and the wider program spotlight France’s key regions and respected wineries, featuring Champagne’s Lallier, the Loire Valley’s Hubert Brochard, Bordeaux’s Château Carbonnieux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s Domaine de Beaurenard and many more. Diners can also expect selections from California, Oregon, Italy, Spain and Germany, including Sonoma Chardonnay, Barolo and Ribera del Duero reds. “When it comes to winemakers and wineries, we focus on small, boutique wineries that are not [mass-producing], and family-owned estates,” said Lopez. “We focus on a lot of the classics when it comes to grape varieties; we have a little bit of everything for every palate, from Aligoté to Malbec from Cahors.”
”The experience is supposed to be elegant, but comfortable; refined but approachable and most of all delicious and fun,” said Beltran.
Laurel joins a slew of siblings in the wider Miami area, including Beltran’s Gibson Room, Navé, Chug’s Diner and Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner Ariete, which is in Coconut Grove. That list is getting two more additions: the new Chug’s Express and El Vecino, opening soon in Worldcenter.