Sometimes it feels like the East End is part of another planet. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I’m sure other planets are nice. What I mean is that it feels removed. We are far out. Other people have to plan elaborate trips and transit hijinks to get to us. We steel ourselves against outside influence, creating a community that functions on its own out here. We don’t need big box retailers, or chain restaurants. We can exist on our own, thank you very much.
All of that is well and good until you get to my favorite subject: food. Out here, the breadth and variety of ethnic food is still an uphill climb. There are Italian joints as far as the eye can see. But Korean? You’ll have to head up-island for that.
But you won’t have to for great Japanese food. That’s a fact. Stirling Sake provides Greenport with a solid backbone when it comes to sushi. Housed in a charming converted house on Main Street, the restaurant is a fine example of food that transports us to a different place. Come for the food, of course. But the sake you should definitely stay for.
Speaking of sake, it’s a wine made from polished rice. I won’t get too wonky about sake here, but grades and styles have to do with the level of polish on the rice grains, as well as the filtration methods. It can be served warm or cold, can be clear or cloudy in appearance, and can invoke everything from fresh apples to wildflowers on the nose and palate. The broad category of Junmai accounts for sake that has been brewed with rice and koji — a specific fungus that excretes an enzyme that reacts with yeast. Ginjo sakes are sakes with a polish ratio of 60 percent or less, while Daijingo sakes have 50 percent or less. And you’ve probably seen Nigori sake before: when poured, it’s as cloudy as the midwinter sky.
I mention all of this because Stirling Sake is just as much a sake purveyor as it is a Japanese restaurant. There are somewhere around 25 sakes offered on the restaurant’s menu, available in different sized pours (four-ounce, 12-ounce, and whole bottle are some of the more common sizes). There is shochu, too: a distilled spirit not unlike vodka, which can be made from any manner of fermented ingredient, including barley, sugarcane, or sweet potato.
Back to that food for a minute. Stirling Sake offers a fairly comprehensive overview of Japanese cuisine. There is sushi, naturally, a curated list of rolls that showcase the fish rather than the pyrotechnics of non-fish ingredients. There are sashimi selections, too. Stirling Sake also places a heavy emphasis on noodles, which have their own dedicated category. In it, you’ll find compelling duck ramen, served with a yuzu salt-based broth and Crescent Farms duck from Long Island; a niki udon, served in a dashi broth with beef; and shirataki noodles, made from tofu, which float in a vegetable broth alongside cabbage, onion, carrot, bean, and mushroom.
Of the appetizers, the kaburamaki is particularly lovely: salmon, avocado, and fragrant shiso, all wrapped together in thinly sliced turnip. But the big eye tuna kakuni, simmered in soy sauce and ginger, is equally impressive.
There are vegetarian and vegan options for everyone (see those shirataki noodles, above), making Stirling Sake a flexible place that can suit a whole host of palates. But, more importantly, it can suit the intrepid drinker who wants to delve into the complexities of sake wholly and without hesitation. And to think, you don’t even need to leave the East End to do it.