The martini has always had about it an air of refined elegance. As the libation of choice for swinger-singer Frank Sinatra, former U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt and, of course, James Bond, the classic martini–dry gin with a splash of vermouth–has become a potent symbol of postwar western refinement. In the East, sake–an alcoholic beverage brewed from rice–connotes an equivalent sense of glamour. Might we assume, then, that the ultimate in international sophistication is the Modern Sakétini–a combination of the western martini and Japanese sake, in which the best of east and west are fused in a single glass?
That question can easily be answered at Ki, Bay Street's latest Shangri-La, which has fashioned a remarkably unified aesthetic out of the best of both North America and the Orient. Nestled in the northwest corner of BCE Place, Ki was summoned into being by Toronto dining impresarios Torsten Hoss Drees and David Aisenstat (both formerly of the Keg). At Ki, a small army of sushi chefs (under the direction of master chef Shinichiro Aoyama) create such delights as the Ki Beef Maki, a successful balance of teriyaki-glazed AAA tenderloin, scallions, sesame seeds, sweet potato tempura and asparagus.
Aoyama's confections are served up in a stunning modernist interior, executed for Ki by Vancouver designer Elaine Thorsell for a cool $7.5 million. The large dining area, patio, lounge and private dining rooms are brought down to size by inspired use of dividers–constructed from blown glass dishes and translucent onyx.
The main draw, though, is the lounge, where patrons can sip sake ranging from Futsu-shu, the tipple North Americans are most familiar with, to Daiginjo, the pinnacle of the sake brewing craft. We focus on Ki's signature drink, the Ki Modern Sakétini. A mixture of Stoli vodka and sake topped with a large wedge of cucumber and spiked with pickled ginger, it is a divine creation, best enjoyed on the restaurant's massively popular patio.
Bar manager Melissa Ide and Hoss Drees travelled to premier bars in New York and London to suss out the state of modern bar craft. “London has it pegged right now,” says Ide. “You see a return to the craft and trade of bartending. We want to bring some of that over here.” In that spirit, syrup infusions and freshly squeezed juices, for mix, are made on-site.
“I like layers and undertones in my drinks,” says Ide. And that's what you get in the Modern Sakétini, which is miraculously free of the bitterness you might expect from a mix of two such disparate alcohols. Perhaps east and west are not so different after all. And as the after-work crowd filters in–financial guns in suits, and the cute young things that follow them–you get the idea elegant and seamless fusion is what a night at Ki is all about.