Mihoko’s 21 Grams, a “Franco-Japonaise” restaurant in the Flatiron District on 21st Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, opened about two weeks ago. It’s owned by a Japanese ballerina and philanthropist, Mihoko Kiyokawa, who prefers to go by one name, Cher-style. It’s an intimidatingly beautiful, light and airy space decorated in a French Neo-Classical style with Louis XVI oval-back chairs and minimalist Japanese elements. There are large scale prints of 18th century French paintings high on the walls and sectional screens dividing the tables in the dining room.
I was there to meet Gardner Dunn, the brand ambassador for Suntory Whisky, for a tasting of Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts. The tasting, which was graciously organized by Danielle Katz of Exposure PR, was much more lavish than expected, with three and four waiters attending to us at a time — and we weren’t even eating dinner. I’ll be covering the Suntory tasting in another post, but here I wanted to highlight two of the cocktails on the 21 Grams menu that we tasted after sampling the whiskys neat.
Both cocktails we tried use Yamazaki’s 12-year-old single malt whisky. It’s a light and subtle whisky, but it’s quite complex. It has some of the characteristics of single malt scotches, but it’s uniquely Japanese.
The cocktail on the left, the Pacific Overture, was Dunn’s favorite. One of the ingredients was yuzu, a sour citrus fruit that Dunn says looks a squashed lemon. (Incidentally, Summit Bar makes a Yamazaki cocktail with yuzu, too.) The Pacific Overture was served over crushed ice. The ingredients were: Yamazaki whisky, apricot brandy, calvados, yuzu, Thai basil, and maple syrup. It was very sweet with strong apricot and citrus flavors.
The cocktail on the right was the Nocturn. This was my favorite. It’s Yamazaki whisky with Chartreuse, un-aged armagnac, falernum (a Caribbean concoction of almond, lime and spices), umeshu (a low-alcohol Japanese plum liqueur), and grapefruit. There was a sage garnish, and I’m not certain whether it was an ingredient as well. This cocktail has served with a large, crystal-clear ice cube. There was still a lot of fruity sweet and sour flavor with the Nocturn, but it was a bit stronger than the Pacific Overture, and to me, a little more exotic tasting. It held its flavor for a long time, thanks to the slow-melting ice cube.
The inventive cocktail menu uses a lot of Japanese ingredients — yuzu, umeshu, shiso, sake, and shucho — but it also manages to include a good number of French ones, too. The overall tone of the menu is sophisticated tiki, sort of like Lani Kai, but with a nod to Japan and France. Cocktails were steep at $17 each, but it’s perfectly in line with the restaurant.