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October 22, 2014

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Master sake sommelier Yuji Matsumoto brings talents to Kabuki

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Leila Navidi

Master sake sommelier Yuji Matsumoto

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Kabuki may be introducing a new menu in September, but Matsumoto's popular mojitos aren't going anywhere anytime soon. "Most of the cocktails that you'll see in the new menu have an Asian touch," the sake expert said, so expect some surprises - including a lack of rum - in these mojitos. The mint nigori mojito mixes mint and lime muddled with soju with Sho Chiku Bai, a Californian sake, rock candy syrup, fresh yuzu juice and soda water. The plum orange mojito boasts plum wine, rock candy syrup and soda water, plus mint and orange wheels muddled with soju.

It's a beverage found on the menu of every Japanese restaurant, yet why are Americans so hesitant to order sake?

The answer lies in the often confusing labels and the industry's lack of categorization, says Yuji Matsumoto, a certified master sake sommelier by Japan's Sake Service Institute and the beverage research and development manager for Kabuki Japanese Restaurants.

"More and more people are drinking sake with food, which I emphasize," Matsumoto said.

But with labels printed entirely in Japanese and brand names that are difficult to decipher, even on English labels, Matsumoto's made it his quest both to codify the industry and categorize sakes by season, helping to make guests' experiences with sake less intimidating.

"I'm trying to change the whole industry," he said. "Nobody has done it, so they don't realize how critical this is."

At Kabuki's 13 locations, including Town Square Las Vegas just south of the Strip, Matsumoto has done his part to help educate the masses by listing suggested sake pairings on the menu and incorporating sake and another distilled Asian spirit, soju, into cocktails. Kabuki's sake list is relatively focused (about 19 or 20 premium selections) but tailored to fit the restaurant's cuisine—light-bodied sakes for sushi and sashimi, medium-bodied sakes for chicken and full-bodied sakes for beef.

"If you taste a sake by itself, sometimes you don't like it, but with food, it totally changes," Matsumoto said. "A lot of people are starting to notice that sake is just like wine, you sip it and then enjoy it with food."

— Originally published in Las Vegas Magazine

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