Sakerum, which opened Monday in the former Mova space at 2204 14th St. NW, bills itself as “a new sushi bar, Asian-Latin restaurant and cocktail lounge,” with a 1,000-foot rooftop patio with a retractable glass ceiling. This news might get filed under “another new high-concept restaurant on 14th Street” if Sakerum didn’t include a new cocktail menu by Gina Chersevani.
Chersevani has been one of Washington’s bartending stars for a decade, including a stint at Rasika, where she introduced Indian spices and herbs into mojitos and martinis. If anyone’s going to have fun with a cocktail menu fusing Japanese and Caribbean flavors, it’s going to be her.
Chersevani is currently in charge of the drinks at Buffalo and Bergen and Suburbia at Union Market. She didn't have plans to create another drink program anywhere else in the city. But when the owners of Sakerum approached her, she couldn’t say no. “I love the idea,” she says. “I’ve never worked with a sushi chef. I’ve never worked with Japanese spices. I don’t know how to make sushi rice or fresh eel sauce. It’s been an intense learning experience.”
Here are three ways to get the most out of the drinks at Sakerum, including a clever mashup of sushi and tiki.
Look out for the Wandering Samurai
The menu is full of drinks that cross international boundaries – the Unsensored combines Don Amado Mezcal, unfiltered sake, a house-made blueberry shrub and Jamaican bitters – but the showstopper manages to combine sushi and tiki. The Wandering Samurai is a large punch bowl filled with white rum, Pure sake, Hamilton 151 rum, bitters and yuzu and pineapple juices. Two bowls of fermented blueberry juice are lit on fire before serving, giving the effect of a volcano bowl. But the garnish is a real attention grabber: six pieces of sashimi selected by the sushi chef. (When I sampled it, the selection included two pieces each of yellowfin tuna, fatty tuna and salmon.)
The idea is that the punch, which is fairly acidic, complements the fatty flavors of the fish. In fact, you’re encouraged to take a bite of the fish and dip it into the punch, which adds sweet, fruity notes. As with most tiki bowls, the flavor changes as you drink -- it becomes sweeter at the bottom, so enjoy the sashimi first.
The bowl costs $50 and is intended for two to four people.
Try a frozen drink – and maybe upgrade it.
Sakerum’s rooftop lounge is a brighter, more relaxed place than the downstairs dining room, with a long banquette covered by colorful pillows, planters full of greenery and a comfortable bar. Another advantage: It has a frozen daiquiri machine, with two offerings. One is made with four-year-old Flor de Cana Rum, lime and raspberries; the other includes Sailor Jerry Rum, grapefruit and cinnamon.
Those simple and delicious drinks would be enough of an attraction in a city obsessed with frozen cocktails and frosé, but Chersevani came up with a whole menu of options that allow guests to go “upscale:” The Sailor Jerry Daiquiri can take a shot of Francisco Fernet, which adds a bitter, herbaceous quality that mixes well with grapefruit, or be sweetened with a shot of blueberry. The Lime-Raspberry daiquiri can be topped with champagne for something lighter and classier. And the two frozen drinks can be swirled together, then mixed with mint and a shot of overproof Hamilton 151 rum, resulting in a rich, super-boozy mojito.
Daiquiris start at $11, and cost $12 or $13 depending on what ingredients are added.
No matter which frozen drink you, it’s served in a heavy thistle-shaped cup made of hammered copper. It’s a gorgeous vessel, and Chersevani says that each cup costs about $30. In other words, these are not souvenirs. Bartenders will keep track of patrons ordering drinks, and whether each cup is accounted for when the round is finished. “If [the cups] don’t come back, your card gets charged,” Chersevani warns. “Don’t stock your dorm room with these.”
Hit the Sake Bamba party on Wednesday night
Chersevani will be behind the bar only on Wednesdays, when she’ll be hosting the “Sake Bamba” party. Each week will highlight “different cocktails that may or may not already be on the menu,” she says. There may be special Ti punches, or drinks spiked with small bottles of sake. For example, Chersevani explains, “I might have two bottles of a red rice sake. It’s a cool product, but there’s not enough of it to make it work for the menu. There’s enough to do something cool for one night.”