Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Road Less Traveled

    On a breezy afternoon, I walked in to an Oakland restaurant called Plum.  Armed with high caliber bottles of sake I walked in by myself to an empty space.  Being one of the hot spots in the area, I was alone for only a short amount of time.  My favorite place to sit these days is at the chef counter, if the restaurant has one.  As an amateur knife-wielder at home, I love to watch the handiwork to see if I can pick up any new techniques.  So there I was at the chef counter with four half full bottles of some of my favorite sakes out there. 

Back row:
Masumi "Okuden Kantsukuri" Junmai
Nagano Prefecture
60% polished Miyamanishiki

Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo
Fukui Prefecture
55% Gohyaku Mangoku

Front Row:
Tamagawa "Kinsho" Daiginjo
Kyoto Prefecture
50% Yamadanishiki

Dewazakura "Izumi Judan" Ginjo
Yamagata Prefecture
40% Miyamanishiki

  With a quick glance, a sake connoisseur would say these are all great food sakes.  And by that I mean, they really come into their own when paired with food.  But of course they drink just fine on their own.  Food and drink...for some, you can't have one without the other.  I selected three intriguing items off the menu and along with the complimentary beet "sausage," I had a four-by-four.  Funny enough each one of the sakes found a match!

Dishes I enjoyed:
  • Ajo Blanco ~ lean, yet concentrated emulsion of pine nuts and garlic, mini toasted croutons and pine nuts to garnish.
  • Raviolini ~ little baby ravioli with housemade ricotta (made from cow, goat and sheeps milk), garnished with ricotta
  • Beet "Blood Sausage" ~ pulverized red beets pressed into thick wheels with pickled yellow beet coins and puree
  • Avocado Risotto ~ toasted pistacios and micro akajiso (red shiso)
Pairing Results:

Ajo Blanco and Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo
     This soup was very distinct in texture and flavor.  Served cold, it was cute to see the chef shake it in a martini shaker to chill before pouring into the bowl.  The chef's awkwardness with the shaker was quite endearing as it was easy to see he was much more comfortable with the tools of his own trade.  But I liked the connection they are making here, since Plum Bar is next door and home to some of Uptowns most delisiously prepared cocktails.  White in color, the soups thin, watery texture was offset by an unpredictable rich, and slightly creamy flavor.  Kokuryu aroma is distinctly floral and nutty, with a touch of chocolate.  Its beautiful silky, sweet palate and light finish was so nice with the soup.  It actually added another layer of taste to the soup that was not there before.  And once the sip was taken, the sake picked up on the lingering umami and rounded out on the finish.

Raviolini and Masumi "Okuden Kantsukuri" Junmai
    What could be better than ravioli, other than little mini ravioli!  Everything is cuter in miniature form.  The preparation was simple: perfectly al dente, stuffed with housemade cow-sheep-goat's milk ricotta and sprinkled with little clouds of the ricotta over the top.  The first challenge with this dish was the cheese itself.  Ricotta has a tendancy to kind of dry out the mouth, in a sense.  Or maybe it sticks to the teeth, in any case, this was the challenge at hand.  Tasting through the other sakes, the Okuden was a really nice match.  Its rounded, silky and rich texture was able to pick up the creamy flavor of the cheese and lengthen its presence.  And instead of the cheese lingering in a dry fashion, the sake really cleaned the palate well and made you want to have another bite to make sure it tasted as good the second time around. 

Beet "Blood Sausage" and Dewazakura "Izumi Judan" Ginjo
    As a special dish from the kitchen, I was very excited as I am very fond of beets.  Their dirty, sweet flavor have always been a favorite of mine, even before I knew you didn't have to eat them from a can (which I have been known to do).  Izumi Judan to me is very vegetal with dense aromas of greens, pepper and a touch of a bit of sweetness from melon.  It also has a rather compact palate, with tight lines and a firm, dry finish.  Izumi Judan worked so well with the beets as it complimented its earthy flavors, the crisp texture and subtle sweetness.  The sake held up to the complex flavors on the plate which also included pickled yellow beet coins and puree.  It was perfectly complimentary with the dish, to which is was very surprised.

Avocado Risotto and Tamagawa "Kinsho" Junmai Daiginjo
    Growing up in California, avocado has been almost a set food group in my diet.  One of my favorite things to eat is simply toasted bread with avocado and a little s'n'p.  Perfectly simple and satisfying.  Therefore, the idea of an avocado risotto thrilled me.  Fully textured risotto with charred avocado basically begged for the Kinsho.  The sake with its developed umami and flavor wrapped around the risotto and played with the green, creamy flavor of the avocado.  The engaging mouth feel of Kinsho was a delicous compliment to the entire dish, while delicately cleansing the palate and leaving just a touch of the avocado flavor.  Toasted pistachio added a textural element and micro akajiso lightened the overall impact with that freshness for which shiso is famous.

So before I forget, take that road less traveled when you can.  Try something new.  You might be surprised at the outcome. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Daiginjo All-Stars: A Glance into the World of a Weathy Sake Connoisseur

I recently had the opportunity to select sakes for a wealthy guest of mine. Here is how it went:

Aperitif: Okunomatsu "F-1" Sparkling Daiginjo
This beauty offers aromas of fresh pear and apple. Little bit of citrus on the palate and soft effervecence leaves you wanting more. I was also happy to support the hard working people of Fukushima prefecture. Once I assured the guests that the sake was made prior to the disaster, they could enjoy it to the fullest.

First Course: Sashimi, Salt Grilled Gulf Prawns with Uni Butter, Seared Local Albacore with pickled green tomatoes....Paired with Kikiuhime "Kukurihime" Daiginjo
With such a limited allocation in the United States, all of my serious sake peeps should at one point get to try this sake. Let me be very frank...it is NOT cheap by any stretch of the imagination. With only Masa in NYC and Ozumo in SF as its only retailers, if you can find it..."put it on the card," its that good.

After consulting with my guest, he asked if this would be a good time to have the 10 year aged daiginjo. My response was "you dont eat oysters after lamb." The opportunity was perfect. Ishikawa has one of the best seafood harvests in all of Japan. So this pairing was very nice. Maguro, hamachi, hotate and sake sashimi were caressed by Kukurihime's silky soft texutre and minerality. While the grilled prawns picked up a bit of the earthy richness of the sake. Pickled tomatoes of the albacore pulled the subtle sweetness of the Chrysanthmum Princess.

Second Course: Hirame Sashimi with Shishito dressing & sweet corn kakiage, tempura & stuffed squash blossoms....Paired with Harushika Shizuku Daiginjo

Tempura and Harushika sake have always been a favorite of mine. Whether it is the intrinsic sweetness of the sake working with the oils of the tempura or the fine acidity to cleanse the palate....its just always a great pairing. All aspects of the hirame dish work well. The clarity of the sake allowed the delicate flavors of the hirame to shine, while the sweetness complimented the dressing and finally that great sweetness and acidity with the corn...YUM! With the blossoms, Harushika lended a demure hand to their slight herbaceous qualtiy and again left the palate fresh and ready for the next bite.

Third Course: Fresh hotate with fois gras and moromi miso...Paired with (a very wonderful) room temperature Shichi hon Yari Shizuku Daiginjo

Local Tamazakae rice gives this beauty an earthy, savory essence. As the sake came to room temp, these inherent qualites became more apparent and both the texture and flavors of the sake compliments those of the dish.

Fourth Course: Filet Mignon with mushrooms and sansho, Lamb Chops grilled with house tare, Seared Duck Breast, stuffed with Tokyo negi....Paired with Kokuryu "Ishida-Ya"

Kokuryu sake is widely revered and respected. While the soft water of Fukui prevails in their sakes, the overall charachter of their sakes can be complex, deep seated and smooth as silk. Ishida-ya is no exception. Its unique expression is best enjoyed by itself or with rich, luxurious cuisine, as was done here.

Fifth Course: Nigirzushi- benitoro (salmon belly), shima aji, o-toro, sawara...Paired with Kokuryu "Mangekyo"

It is very important to not forget about the shari (seasoned sushi rice) when pairing with sake. And since my guest was still interested in daiginjo, this aged-unpasterized daiginjo was a perfect fit. The rich flavors and textures were nicely balanced by the bright, fruity and supple tones of the sake and the rice was quickly cleaned up by the fine acidity. Love serving this sake ICE-COLD with sushi! It is also fun to taste side by side two sakes from the same brewer. Now, the last time Ishida-ya and Mangekyo were consumed like this, well I cannot really remember. It was quite the time indeed!

Sixth Course: Warm Belgium Chocolate Fondue, Chocolate cake with green tea ice cream....Paired with Hanahato Junmai Kijoshu

No serious connoisseur of anything will leave dinner without enjoying a digestif of sort. Whether it be scotch or bourbon, port, moscato, etc. Hanahato's Kijoshu has come from left field a few times to wow the pants of guests. Paired with braised beef tongue, chocolate or by iteslf, this swanky sake is sure to make some noise. The guests were almost too saucy to understand this sake is not aged in barrels, but that its color is due to the aging of amino acids. It was quite a treat and a great finish to the dinner.

This extravagant dinner was executed by good friend Alex Morgan. All the sakes, due to their value and devine nature, were served in wine glasses. I like to do this so that the most of the aromatic qualities, supple lines and color can be admired.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving to Sake

Since the years tend to pass by more quickly as one gets older, I notice that I haven't written here since January. Good lord. Well, here I am. Happy Thanksgiving. Though I am a huge fan of yamahai and kimoto sakes for this and other big dinner days, I enjoyed some Zinfandel yesterday. Perfectly jammy, ripe and with the perfect amount of spice. Loved it. Now, should you decide to drink some sake for your big dinner, here are a few recommendations:

Tedorigawa Yamahai Junmai, from Ishikawa. Soft, pillowy aromas of mushroom, earth and berries. Great, if not wonderful served room temperature to warm. Pair this with anything from stuffing, to turkey and even the pumpkin pie.

Masumi "Nanago" Yamahai Daiginjo, from Nagano. Incredibly rounded and rich. The smooth texture is unforgettable. You can pair this with lamb, roast pork, hell, even barbeque ribs!!

Taiheizan "Tenko" Kimoto Daiginjo, from Akita. Ripe aroma of banana and apple. Nicely layered with fruits and nuts. Great body, yet full of clarity. Absolutely love this with some sausage stuffing with apples, cranberries and walnuts.

Experiment with sake! Thats the best way to find your favorite pairing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Wonderfully Surprising World of Aged Sake

Being a Christmas baby (not exactly, but the 22nd is close enough) I really love winter. I love the fashion, having to get all bundled up just to go outside...scarves, gloves, long coats. And I absolutely love the food of winter. Don't get me wrong, tomatoes, watermelons and nectarines that are perfectly just a bit unripe and crunchy...love 'em too. But there's something about roasts and braising meats, stews and chilis. In Japan, its all about the nabemono. Giant ceramic bowls filled with anything from crab legs to thin sliced beef to eggs and leeks. I am a huge fan of CIY (cook it yourself) dinners. The connection with the food you prepared and are now enjoying with a little bowl of steamed rice.
Just the other day, I had some sake friends in the restaurant. Lately, the Chefs have getting down with wagyu (Japanese Kobe, yes the real stuff) tongue. Now, I myself, am not really a tongue person, or for that matter an offal person, but this stuff is just incredible. Braised in red wine and veal stock, it is oozing with umami. I had an idea
of sending out Hanahato "Kijoshu." Kijoshu holds a special place within the realm of the sake world. It goes like this: at some point during the fermentation, the brewer adds previously brewed sake to the mash, instead of water. After the whole process, this stuff is then bottled and set to age for 8 years. On the nose very mushroomy and earthy with hints of nuts, maple syrup and toffee. The palate is surprisingly light, yet rich with layers of cocoa and more mushrooms. I poured it for my friends about 10 minutes before they were to taste it s
o that it could warm up just a bit...the fridges are a little too cold in my opinion. Anyhow, the verdict was good. It seemed to me that they licked the plate clean. The feedback was very positive.
The whole concept of aged sake is a mixed bag. In addition to the million ways you can make the sake, there another million way to aged it. You can age in the bottle, in the tank, in a 1.8L bottle. The length of time you age. The temperature at which it ages obviously has a serious affect on how the sake ages. Here are a few pics of some various ways I've seen sake age.
The first picture shows junmai sake aging in the heiseigura at Sawanoi brewery in the rural mountains of Tokyo. The bottles were not under temperature control. The second photo shows bottles aging in the old bomb shelter at Tensei brewery in Kanagawa. Like all things in sake, there is full intent for this sake to age. The brewer knows it is going to change. Just how much, though is the question.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pure Realm

 Chemistry is a wonderful.  Not just because it draws lovers together but because it draws everything together.  Chemistry is wholy responsible for sake.  The incredible microbial exchanges happening create a most delicious elixir.  Each time my lips touch the glass, these days filled with Koshi no Kanbai "Muku."  Holy canoli.  Or should I say holy rice/water/koji/yeast-love.  Goodness.  Im always a big fan of sake and wine whose aromas tell you nothing about what it will taste like.  To me its very interesting that this one liquid could be so deceiving.  Kind of like a good version of when you think you are drinking water, but its really flat, room temp sprite.  Yuk.  
  Muku is this wonderful surprise.  Full aromas of rice, herbs, dirt.  I like dirt.  Once it hits the palate its almost like snow run off.  Clean, light, crisp yet this supple layer.  Mmm mm mm.  And this is when its chilled.  Warm the sucker and its like wrapping your favorite blanket around your soul.  Comforting, warm, amazing.  Just don't heat it too much.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Onna Joshu Tasting

On a cold winter morning, in the prime of sake brewing season, my family and I walked up quiet, cobble-stoned streets to find Onna Joshu brewery. Every year around the same time the brewery opens its doors to the locals, giving them a chance to taste the first of the season's brews.  
As we tuck our heads into the narrow, cramped hallway I could smell the undeniable aromas of fresh pressed sake.  Probably because, before I knew it, we would be in a small room filled with about 80 people all filling their small little cups with Onna Joshu's fresh pressed sake.  There were about 6 or so different sakes to taste.  Surprisingly, I remember almost half of them being nigorizake, or un-filtered sake.  
Being the only gaijin (foreigner) in the room, many took a liking to me, practicing their sake-related english.  Others didn't quite know what to do.  This is very rural Japan where not many foreign travelers visit.  But we had one (probably more) connection....the sake.  
Like most shiboritate brews, their sakes were bright and brash, you could smell the youth in them.  Lots of apples, pears, lime.  Very refreshing with undertones of rice and koji.  Yum, yum.  Perfect for a drive around the countryside on a Sunday afternoon.  Of course my mom-in-law didn't drink.  She doesn't really drink anyway.  So my dad-in-law and I wooped it up.  Had a grand 'ole time in fact.  He enjoys sake very much and I am looking forward to many more events like these in the future.