"Ask Beau" June 2006
Michelle M. from Santa Monica writes:
|"How in the hell do I know what to order in a restaurant that has a list of 5 or 50 sakes without looking at the price?"|
Whoooaaaaaa Michelle easy there gal! I sense your frustration and I feel the same way when buying breakfast cereals - so many to choose from but which one will work better than the others? The bottom line is that you have to ask yourself "Am I ordering a sake to sip or one to pair with food, or both?" Once you have figured out what you want to do with it the rest is easy, or should appear to be so!
Let's pretend that you and I have headed out to a sushi shack that neither of us has been to before. It's sort of date (wink wink) so we may need some social lubricant to break the ice, and therefore we want a glass to sip to get the 8-ball rolling. Typically if you were looking for a sipping sake, I would spend the extra moola for a glass of Dai Ginjo to start the evening. In this light, think of a Dai Ginjo as a "cocktail hour" sake that is clean, light and easy, which is perfect for sipping, but not so great when pairing with bigger flavored dishes such as your "Flaming Pink Flamingo Maki Of Love." So start with a Dai Ginjo and then when the food arrives jump back to a Junmai to pair with larger flavors and the sushi itself.
Here are some tricks that I try to adhere to when in a restaurant realm that I have no idea about. First I ask the waitperson if the sushi chef or chef has any personal sake recommendations that they enjoy and/or would order with your selection of cuisine. The recommendation is always the best route, except usually the guy is a part owner so he may recommend the most expensive sake in the house, at which point you say that you would like something a little more in line with Japanese pricing!
If the chef has no clue then I take a visual inspection. I look for the bottles themselves to see how full they are, which can determine their freshness. Even if I prefer a sake, if there is only 1/4 bottle left then I would select something else, the proverbial "second choice." If you cannot see the bottles and must go by the menu, take a look around the restaurant. If there are a lot of people drinking sake and the place has a reputation for good sake then order freely off of the menu. But if you get the vibe that sake is not that important, then do not order a glass of the expensive sake, because more than likely that bottle has been opened for a while and would not be worth the price in terms of performance. So pick a more affordable brew and enjoy! Think in terms of Junmai for prepared dishes and American-style sushi. Think in terms of Ginjo for sashimi and very subtle Japanese sushi, and lastly think in terms of Dai Ginjo if you would like a glass to start the evening off.
Finally, the best way to get into a brilliant glass of sake is to visit a restaurant where I made the sake menu! Then you will never go wrong!
Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All correspondence should use info @ truesake.com.)