When Stirling Sake opened at the corner of Center and Main streets in Greenport in 2015, its namesake Japanese rice wine was at the heart of the restaurant. It offered more than 15 varieties from Japanese sake breweries, served in tasting flights and paired with authentic Japanese small bites like sushi and gyoza.
Owner Yuki Mori, a sake sommelier, correctly believed warm sake would go over well in the village, but he would soon learn that traditional Japanese cuisine would shine just as bright.
“I wanted to introduce more sake, but the people here wanted food first,” Mori said with a laugh.
Over time, Mori, a former general manager of the Manhattan restaurant Decibel, has delivered on both fronts. The sake list now boasts around 30 selections and the menu includes a variety of Japanese cuisine, most notably ramen, which has quickly become a go-to order for customers.
“People immediately think sushi when it comes to Japanese food, but I wanted it to be more,” said Mori, who now also serves as chef.
Over the past five years, Mori has come into his own in the kitchen, using fresh, local ingredients to create traditional Asian dishes. Stirling Sake’s former chef, Japanese native Akio Kon, who has worked with celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, helped Mori hone his filleting skills as they worked together to craft the expanded menu. Kon has also been a longtime local fisherman and supplies fresh-caught fish for Stirling Sake, which also sources seafood from Braun’s in Cutchogue and Southold Fish Market.
“Freshness is very important to flavor,” Mori said. “I see the fishermen when I am in the market, 10 minutes later I bought it and I am cleaning it, and in a couple hours it is served.”
Mori first learned the traditional technique for slicing sushi and sashimi while working as a university student in Japan at a small sushi restaurant. There, he was also taught the art of crafting eloquent flavor combinations, skills he brought stateside when he arrived in New York City in 2002.
Greenport’s roots as a working waterfront reminded Mori of his hometown of Fukuoka. The name Greenport has also held a serendipitous allure. Mori, whose name translates to “forest,” drew a connection between the colorfully named village and the hue implicated in his surname.
“It made it feel like [Greenport] could be home,” Mori said. “With so many wineries and breweries around it seemed like a great opportunity to start a sake bar.”
At Stirling Sake, guests are invited to settle around the cherrywood bar or at minimalist wood tables outfitted with ramekins, sets of chopsticks and low-sodium soy sauce. Geometric origami adornments crafted by Mori hang from the light fixtures above the bar, adding a pop of color to the otherwise clean lines, simple furnishings and neutral color palette while creating a welcoming and intimate atmosphere.
In addition to a wide variety of sushi options, locally sourced ingredients — from both sea and land — drive rotating offerings at Stirling Sake. The result is a menu that features, for example, simple-seared Peconic Bay scallops with miso and a hint of citrus in the fall and sweet corn tempura in the summer. Mori hopes to continue this farm-fresh fusion by eventually using soybeans grown at Treiber Farms in Peconic to make miso.
“There are always a lot of vegetables on the menu,” Mori said. “I like working with the farmers; they tell me what’s in season. I am proud to use the local ingredients to make a traditional Japanese dish.”
A go-to for Mori is 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue, where he gets the pork bones needed for the base of his ramen broth.
The bones are boiled in water for 10 to 12 hours to produce the savory flavors synonymous with Mori’s ramen. His Tonkotsu Ramen, a signature dish in his hometown, is also among the most popular at Stirling Sake.
It’s made with noodles cooked in the bone broth, with braised pork belly, which Mori sears and smokes with a handheld blowtorch. The dish is topped with kikurage mushroom, red ginger, scallion and hard boiled eggs that he slices using a fishing line dangling in the kitchen.
“It takes a long time to prep, but the process is meditative,” Mori said. “I lose track of time when I am cooking.”
At Stirling Sake, where the motto is “Far East meets East End,” cultural fusion is an important element of Mori’s culinary philosophy. The restaurant hosts special events inspired by the Japanese anime series “Samurai Champloo.” Champloo, which means “something mixed,” is derived from the word Chanpurū, a stir-fry dish from Okinawa. It is also the name of Stirling Sake’s pop-up culinary events, which invite guest chefs to join Mori in the kitchen.
He collaborates with a variety of chefs on multi-course meals. The menus often incorporate seasonal fare from local farms such as KK’s The Farm in Southold and Sang Lee Farms in Cutchogue, among many others.
“I can walk on the field myself and choose organic vegetables and fruits,” said guest chef Michi Rythem, a private chef from Japan who often cooks for some of her country’s professional athletes. “I try to make a surprise on a plate. Yuki helps with everything to shape what I envision.”
Champloo is an educational culinary experience for diners as well as for Mori, who is inspired by visiting chefs and their take on food preparation and flavor.
“There is opportunity in collaboration,” he said. “I am always learning.”
Stirling Sake is located at 477 Main St, Greenport