Sake Moment -- It's Not All About The Sake!
I have been encouraged to comment on occasion about restaurants that I visit with the express purpose of checking out their "sake game." Sometimes these visits are ummmm well how do I put it? Not worth it! (But I will never write about those encounters.) And other times I am greatly rewarded by chefs and owners who take great care in marrying their sakes to their cuisine. So the "Sake Moment" section will feature sake experiences that are worth checking out or at the very least hearing about.
My most recent "Sake Moment" found me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on one of those "Hey wait! There is sun and fog and fog and fog and oh there is the sun " sort of early evenings at the beginning of summer. My car took me into Sausalito where I visited my good friend Yoshi Tome of "Sushi Ran" fame. This is one of the restaurants that I wish was in SF, closer to my belly and my bed. But alas it is in a perfect nook of a back street in the most scenic city in the Bay Area. A perfect home for an establishment that does a "perfect" job pairing great sakes with great cuisine. Sushi Ran is in the "Top 5 must try the sushi and sake selections" in Northern CA.
I did not tell Yoshi that I was coming -- one of those "Hey I am with the media" unannounced means unbiased reports that would work if in fact I were with the media but I am not but it is still cool to pretend sort of visits. As such, I luckily got a single seat at the very nice sushi bar and started taking in all the potential "Sake Moments" that were as abundant as politicians in a parade. Yoshi's sake menu is quite strong with a solid number of sakes and offerings of all capacities. (In a word Yoshi knows his brews!) He also has an extensive ummm haaaa wine menu. Those pesky grape juices!
Sushi Ran's sake menu is 2 pages long with over 30 sakes that are broken down into "Light and Smooth Type -- Soushu Sake" "Rich Type -- Junshu Sake" "Nigori Sake" "Fragrant Type -- Kunshu Sake" "Warm Sake" and "Aged Sakes" They also have a "Dessert Sake" section. Each sake has a brief sentence describing that brew with its prefecture. For example this is the review for Wakatake's Junmai Ginjo: "Heavy sake with richness peculiar to Genshu type." They offer 4.5oz pours from $6 to $24 per pour and every sake is available by the bottle.
I started with a sake that I had not tasted in a very long time, when Yoshi spotted me. He asked if one of his friends could join me, and then proceeded to pour us three sakes that were soon to be featured in his restaurant. In fact he had just tasted them several days earlier, roughly the exact same time that the same sake vendor visited me with the exact same sakes. (On a side note we spoke about vendors bringing sake to taste, and Yoshi explained that he liked it when he opened the bottle with the vendor and spoke about the sake right then and there rather "than just leaving me a bottle." But I told Yoshi, that I far prefer when they leave the bottle and let me rip the brew apart on my own with follow-up questions later. Just two different schools)
The sake was flowing, and we were laughing. The sushi and sashimi offerings were exotic and extremely tasty. Yoshi said that all of his fish that we tasted were flown in from Japan. The flavors were melding, the laughs continued and then I noticed the "Sake Moment." Three seats down on the sushi bar sat a very -- ummm dare I say loud -- gentleman who was dining with a friend. In front of the two was an ice bucket, which was perched precariously on the sushi bar. I started really taking note of the gentleman as he was getting into his dinner with his buddy and of course really getting into a bottle of sake. He made a point of chilling each glass in the ice water before he poured the next round. He kept telling his friend "It's gotta be cold -- really cold!"
He then leaned back and offered a table with women, who he did not know, a glass of sake from his bottle. I was trying not to watch, but I had too, and felt compelled to hear what he was saying about his sake and sake in general. The women took a glass and thanked him, and he returned to sucking down chilled glass after chilled glass from his ice bucket. I noticed the first instant that I glanced over what the sake was, and in the back of my mind passed judgment on this guy. I am ashamed to admit it, but I was sort of thinking "hey look at me drinking superb Japanese sake -- and of course I know everything about sake -- and I am the greatest -- and look at what the hell that guy is drinking" In a word I was passing judgment on the guy because his brew that he made such a show over was a 1.5L bottle of Ozeki "Premium" sake from Hollister, CA.
Later that night in a cab driving across the now dark Golden Gate Bridge I thought to myself "You idiot!" "You pathetic sake snob!" "How dare you pass judgment on people, especially when they are drinking your most favorite passion in the world." It was a realization of sorts. I get so caught up in promoting premium sakes that I forgot the point of sake -- the personal enjoyment. Of course I am embellishing the story when I called myself the greatest etc, but I cannot deny that I mentally scoffed, and for that I should be damned to a life of drinking 20 year-old Nigori sake that has been aged in a shoe. (Damn that is harsh) Sake is about enjoyment. Sake is not the where or the what's it's the how much it makes one smile.
Thus my "Sake Moment" this month is to remind myself to try the Ozeki Premium sake the next time I visit Sushi Ran.