CNN  — 

For some chefs, owning and operating a successful restaurant is achievement enough.

But for Mitch Bates, owner of upscale Toronto restaurant Grey Gardens, food and drink are never something you can stop learning about.

The American-born chef honed his talents at New York City’s Momofuku Ko before heading north of the border.

But his friendship with Stuart Sakai, who runs Sakai Bar on trendy Dundas Street West, made him eager to learn more about the Japanese drink.

Sakai studied and got his certification at the Sake Education Council. Now, he hosts lectures and classes in sake as well as on Japanese food preparations like pickling.

The intimate, 22-seat Sakai Bar is a great place to learn about and sample different sakes.

Bates started spending time there with his friend Sakai, and it wasn’t long before sakes began working their way onto both the food and drink menus at Grey Gardens.

“In my kitchen now, sake makes its way in the flavor profiles,” Bates explains. “It just naturally flows into the food that I’m making.”

One of the Grey Gardens dishes that highlights sake is a kale and littleneck clam broth with grilled rice, chanterelle mushrooms and onions.

For Bates, the dish was a no-brainer, as seafood was a great canvas for showing off the salinity of sake.

And when it comes to pairings? Grey Gardens has a great wine list full of reds and whites that show off the simple-but-hearty new North American flavors on the menu.

If you’re an insider, though, you know to order from the secret sake menu – or just ask the server to recommend something. After all, if you’re going to try something new, you might as well do it deliciously.

Grey Gardens, 199 Augusta Ave Toronto, Canada +1 (647) 351-1552

Sakai Bar, 1576 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6K 1T8, Canada