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.