Sake Moment - Sozai Restaurant/Izakaya
If you have ever been to one of True Sake's "Sake Day" Celebrations on October 1st (see Events for a "Save This Date" reminder) you will recall three things - One: great sake - Two: great sake exploration - Three: and most importantly great food and sake pairings. The food part was and is the brainchild of Mari Takahashi of "Mari's Catering" fame. Mari finally decided to take the catering to brick and mortar and the result is a cool little restaurant called Sozai (which means "ingredients").
Along with husband Gil their motto is to use organic, local, and seasonal products to make the flavors of the season jump off the plate. Gil has been bitten by the sake bug and with some wink wink - nudge nudge he has crafted a really cool seasonally focused sake menu that stands out from most other restaurants. Personally I like the value to quality ratio on both their food and sake.
Herewith are a couple "Sake Moment" flavors to consider:
|Kushiyaki "Chicken Sampler ($12) - 6 skewers stuck with chicken, chicken & green onion, gizzard, hearts, livers, and meatballs. I paired this six-pack with the Hakkaisan Honjozo $9 for a nice 5oz pour. When you order the dish they ask if you would like the chicken in "salt" or "sauce" - teriyaki of course - and Gil said that 90% of us whities take the "sauce" whereas only 40% of the Japanese do. As I am a closet saltaholic I of course went sodium!The "Hak" goes so well with salty/oily fare, especially when it is on a stick! Not a very sweet Honjozo this brew drinks far more rich when oils are present in the palate. What is nice is that "Hak Jo" (just made that up) has far more body and structure than most honjozos, which is odd as one would think that a Niigata Honjozo would be as clean and light/dry as water. Not! Good body meets good savory and salty flavors for a rich and meaty mouthful on all six! This is a well-spent $21 combo! (On a side note - and I will be brutally honest here - there is no superb Yakitori in SF - None - Crickets - Helloooooooo - ! But Sozai can lay claim to one of the best that we have to offer.) Other good pairings:
Kushiage - Lotus Root with Salt ($5 for two skewers) and Kurobuta Pork Filet with Pickled Plum Sauce ($7 for two skewers) paired with Tengumai Yamahai Junmai. The big and bitterness of the sake works very well with big and veggie quality of the root to produce a tangy combination. And of course Tengumai and pork dance better than Kermi and Miss Piggy! The plum sauce flat out rocked with the Tengumai. Good flavors on the edgy side - not for beginners!
Tonkatsu (The pork staple - breaded and deep fried tenderloin - $9) paired with the "Joto Sake Sampler $12 (Shichi Hon Yari Junmai, Kasumi Tsuru Junmai, Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo) Personally I thought the Extra Dry Kasumi Tsuru would make the best bedmate, but alas I was wrong. It was too light - too dry (which as I say time and time again is a function of over fermenting to achieve a dryness that has dry qualities at the sake of more body and texture and flavor - good for drinking not so good for throwing at cuisine - unless of course you are eating Pringles in the summer in the desert.) The Shichi Hon Yari provided good "cover" as the Junmai qualities of the brew pulled the natural sweetness of the pork. And the surprise "beast" of the sampler was the Yuki No Bosha that extracted the juices of the pork and melded them with the tangy/sweet dipping sauce in a way that made one forget the explosive fruit flavors of the brew. Perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that this brew is genshu - all of their brews are genshu and I'll write about this next month. Good stuff!
And Tadah! The Best $5 dish in the Bay Area: The O-Chazuke with Tai (red snapper) paired with Urakasumi Junmai $9. I know I know! You are supposed to be winding down the drinking when you order a rice-based tea or dashi based dish that is supposed to "sop" up the remaining booze in your system. I couldn't resist! (Especially as the True Sake limousine was parked in front of Sozai - yes we Sake Samurai have private cars available at all hours in all countries - membership has its privileges.) Word to my wise readers - ask Mari to add ume to your bowl, which she will gladly do! Here are my "words" - word for word - at the end of a very nice evening speaking to two great sensations:
"Deep & rich flavor but not a heavy rich - light rich like Ritchy Rich (yes even in the heat of the battle I still entertain myself with cartoon references) - the Tai really stands out - rice chips on top of dish produce a great savory tea flavor. The Urakasumi works so well - sweetness comes forward with a solid and comfortably warm movement. The smoothness of the Urakasumi plays with the smooth flavors and textures of the broth. Could be the best $14 pairing in the Bay Area!"