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.