Differences in Korean and Japanese cuisine get two local restaurants in trouble

Where the Japanese prefer sake, which is fermented from rice, Koreans would rather down soju, which is distilled from rice. That's now gotten two Korean-oriented restaurants in trouble with the Boston Licensing Board, because fermented beverages are allowed under their licenses, while distilled beverages - even with a similar alcohol content - are not.

Last week, the board voted to suspend Apollo Grill & Sushi's beer and wine license for a day after the owners of the Harrison Avenue restaurant admitted a chef had purchased bottles of soju and was offering it with meals. The board voted the one-day suspension even after the owners admitted the mistake and apologized for it and said they had fired the chef - despite ten years with them - who they said had ordered the soju because other Korean chefs in the area were selling it as well.

Today, the board admonished the owner of an Allston restaurant that this is not New York and he can't sell the stuff, either, even if everybody he knows in that city does.

On a routine inspection on Aug. 2, Boston Police detectives found bottles of soju in the kitchen and in a dining-room cooler of Roppongi Sushi, 1245 Commonwealth Ave.

Owner Eugene Kim acknowledged he'd bought some soju and explained to the board that his Korean patrons simply prefer their rice-based liquids distilled rather than fermented. He added that because soju has a similar origin to sake, and because Korean restaurants in New York all stock it, he didn't realize his beer-and-wine license didn't allow it.

Board Chairwoman Nicole Murati Ferrer put him straight: Sake is rice wine while soju is rice liquor. "It's no longer a wine when it's distilled," she said.

She added, "This is not New York. This is Boston. You have to respect the laws of Massachusetts."

Kim said he no longer stocks soju.

The board decides Thursday what punishment, if any, to mete out against Roppongi.



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outdated rules

I think this is unfair to Korean restaurants. If we really are talking about the same alcohol content, but just a different process, then the laws themselves need to be updated. Let's call it "Unintentional cultural bias."

Also, we have to knock off the "This is not New York" nonsense. We know it's not New York, and I'm not sure what serving soju has to do with that? I'm sure NY is not the only other city serving the beverage.

You know what? I take "This is not New York" as code for "I'm a small minded grump."

She's a total grump

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I have previously sent her letters expressing my opinion on various issues to come before the board and gotten incredibly rude and one-sided responses back.

Are you volunteering?

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Open up an illegal bar and it seems like the odds are good that you'll get to meet her.

Beer == ale == lager

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FYI, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (beer yeast) encompasses both ale (top fermenting) and lager (bottom fermenting).

The restaurant brought up New

The restaurant brought up New York. She said - correctly - that law enforcement in Massachusetts does not depend on what is allowed in New York. Which was exactly the right thing to say. Unless you think that gay marriage in Massachusetts should be up to Alabama law.

Way literal

Coupled with the no-free-fuzzy decision, the Licensing Board appears unthinking. The rules-are-rules types can always justify their rigidity by pointing to the print on paper. Such literal non-thinking is why so many of us dislike dealing with bureaucrats and government functionaries.

I've been seeing Mitt Romney's doubling down on his revealed stupid comments are recalling Emerson's "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..." observation. This Board seems to do so even more.

Discretion - Use it!

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One of the reasons separation of powers is great is, if the legislature passes a poorly-thought-out law, or the law ill fits a situation, then the executive branch can decline to pursue it. Prosecutorial discretion. It's why we don't see too many adultery prosecutions these days (see MGL c. 272, s. 14).

Regulation of alcohol sales makes sense (at least in the abstract). But punishment for selling soju vs sake??

So you're saying a Republican

So you're saying a Republican White house should be able to ignore violations of civil rights laws? That's an interesting take you have on democracy.

Oh please guy.

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Of all people, shouldn't you be the one against excessive regulation?

It's not like they make this stuff up

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Not to defend the Boston Licensing Board, but what they and the BPD's licensed-premises unit are doing is enforcing state laws and regulations. Changes probably need to happen at the legislative level.

And for what it's worth, and in a holdover from the days when the Brahmins didn't think they could trust Boston Irish with anything having to do with liquor, the board is still appointed by the governor, not the mayor. When Daniel Pokaski retired as chairman, Gov. Patrick made some noises about giving Boston control over appointments to the board. That was more than a year ago; I'm betting nothing ever came of that idea.

Time to cut their budget!

Seems like the board has too many people with too much time on their hands. The state too - they did a sting on VFW, American Legion etc. to try and catch them serving an adult non-member. These are the only bars where people can smoke. So what about non-members? At least they aren't serving minors. Confirmed that we are not a world class city, and not because big sodas are still allowed.


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what a bunch of pedantic, nit-picking fucking kill joys. Seriously, sometimes the posts about this licensing body are mind boggling.

Well, sort of ...

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There's variation, of course, but korean soju and japanese shochu (both the same thing; that is, alcohol prepared by distillation from rice wine) are typically stronger than beer or wine, much like brandy is typically stronger than wine. It is not the same as serving sake, generally speaking.

God forbid laws should be

God forbid laws should be enforced. If you don't like the ruling, call your legislators and try to get it changed. But then whining on the internet is so much more fun than actually getting involved in democracy.

This rule of law thing can be a pain, but when you lose it you'll damn well wish you had it back.


Even worse than saying how things in NYC are, is telling public servants that they work for you. Not a good way to go.


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This is not complicated. DISTILLED is considered LIQUOR by law, regardless of the alcohol content. They have a beer and wine license, not a license to serve liquor. Get the proper license.

NY was mentioned because the owner brought it up, and Murati Ferrer's response was appropriate.

Many people constantly compare Boston and NYC. I've traveled and lived all over, and there are things about NYC that are fairly unique even compared to other big cities, such as it's 24/7 status. Even the subway in London shuts down overnight, and on weekends doesn't start up until something like 7 in the morning, maybe later. L.A. has a 2AM closing time. So please stop with the 'world class' BS.

I can't think of any city

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I can't think of any city besides Boston that has a subway system, but no 24-hour bus routes (or at least routes that run until 3 AM).