Wine Culture Magazine

Miki Ellis. Laura Starr photo

For this edition of Bottled Up! we are turning down a different avenue and taking on all things sake with Miki Ellis, sake pro extraordinaire and restaurateur, who just opened a new spot in Sunrise called Dachi (which she co-owns with business partner, and fellow wine lover, Stephen Whiteside.) Miki dove into sake in Vancouver when there were really no resources to lean into, and so, she did what you do when you’re passionate about something niche—she went to the source: Japan. She is responsible for the phenomenal sake programs at renowned Japanese restaurants, Miku and Minami, and backs up her restaurant experience at an endless list of Vancouver hotspots. However, her new spot Dachi is the first restaurant where she has been able to integrate sake into a non-Japanese menu, and she is thrilled about it.

Laura: Alright. Hi Miki! Congrats on approaching the year anniversary of your new restaurant, Dachi. What has this year been like?

Miki: I can’t believe it’s almost been a year! It’s been wild, hectic and very fun. I love Dachi and the whole thing still feels a bit unreal.

L: What has been the most unexpected part to opening a new restaurant in Vancouver?

M: I’ve been surprised at how much people are keen on sake in a non-Japanese restaurant. Folks are excited about seeing it on the menu and very willing to give it a go! We had planned to always have it on our list, but didn’t really expect to move it. People are really into trying the fairly geeky/wacky sakes. So I get to keep buying really neat stuff, which is very fun for me.

L: You are a sake sommelier, or sake professional…or…specialist? What is the proper terminology exactly?

M: It’s a very dry title: “advanced sake professional,” but the terminology doesn’t matter. I don’t think people who are excited to learn about sake really care either.

L: I know you have some WSET training in addition to your experience with sake. Do you think wine and sake go hand-in-hand at all? Or do you feel they are two separate experiences that shouldn’t cross paths?

M: They play different roles. Sake is super food-friendly, and with lower acidity and higher amino acids, which can go with such a range of food. It’s exciting to see sake included in wine pairings! I think that’s a nice way to introduce people to sake without them having to commit to a whole bottle.

Miki and her partner, Stephen Whiteside. Laura Starr photo

L: My understanding is you and your business partner, Stephen Whiteside, put together your wine and sake list. What is your M.O. for choosing what makes the cut?

M: We run a pretty tight list at Dachi, with three by-the-glass options in each category, so they must all be very different from each other to provide variety. They are all family-owned producers and many of them are organic and/or low intervention. With the sake specifically, it’s fun because we are seeing more and more small quirky and experimental producers being brought in. The smaller size of Dachi allows us to work with them! We always keep sneaky off menu things as well…

L: Noted! As for what’s listed, what your favourite sipper right now?

M: We have a couple of sake from Kyushu Island right now that are super cool. One uses yeast taken from sunflowers, which is wild and playful and very expressive.

L: Whoa! Interesting! What would you say is the most unexpected food pairing with sake?

M: There are so many! It’s still at a point where most non-Japanese food/sake pairings are exciting for people, so experimentation is encouraged! Yesterday I had sake and oysters, which was an easy delight.

L: You have years of experience with the Aburi Restaurant group, which included Miku, Minami, and Gyoza Bar. How did this experience develop your passion for sake?

M: Aburi was a big move as I got a lot of support in running with the sake program and doing really different, unique things with sake. The sheer volume of sake we were able to go through also allowed us to get a bit experimental.

L: I know WSET has been adding in sake training to their repertoire, but you started in sake years ago. Was it harder to find resources for education or certification? What route did you go?

M: It wasn’t a thing when I was certified. I went the Sake Education Council route with industry leader John Gauntner, in Oregon and Japan. I had the opportunity to work at a brewery in Niigata for a season as well, which was incredible.

L: When it’s not sake or wine, what might we find in your cup?

M: Woods Amaro these days, with grapefruit juice for breakfast, or on ice in the evening. It’s like Green Eggs and Ham, I drink it anyway, anywhere, with anything in the summer time.

L: How about your guilty drink pleasure?

M: Coors Banquets for sure. Dachi was built on them.

L: Any sage nuggets of advice for someone wanting to pursue sake as a vocation?

M: Like with anything, tasting, tasting, tasting!

L: And thanks to you, now we can easily do that! I can’t wait to come in to Dachi!

Miki Ellis. Laura Starr photo


Dog or cat? Cat, but I have a dog?

Negroni or Boulevardier? Oooooo, really both.

Most despised wine (or sake) term? Saki (not sake) I find unreasonably irritating?

What drink would your mom be? GIN

Go-to hangover cure? Canada Dry and Ochazuke

High school prom song? Lady in Red

Thanks for your time, Miki!

Find Miki at @mikiaellis @dachivancouver

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