Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Middle Eastern Cuisine (Fattoush)
I am on a spiritual sake quest that will finally put a nail in the coffin of "sake can only be consumed at a sushi restaurant" mantra. Wake up people! Food and sake go together - always have and always will. If it has a tail, roots, feathers, leaves or a damn beak sake will go with it - anytime and any place. And that is my quest - the place or origin of the cuisine does not matter. It can be Spanish, Italian, Brazilian or ughhhh British chow and sake will walk the walk. Japan has chickens! Japan has salad! Japan has beef! Japan has spicy and savory dishes! Japan has sweet and salty fare, so why not think about having sake with these "tones" from other countries?
The Sake Challenge is my way for you great consumers to see outside of the sushi paradigm, and to achieve this "new view on brew" I will usually select two different sake styles and price-points and bring them to a non-Japanese restaurant with a celebrity, sake-sleuth or hell even a friend in tow. (Please see the August '07 Newsletter for Sake vs. New Orleans fare - yes Cajun flavors galore - or Sake vs. Italian Jan '08 Newsletter - Sake vs. Peruvian March '08 - Sake vs. Brazilian April '08)
This is the last tasting that I will use the A-B-C grading system. For future quests I will use the following criteria:
- Works World Class (WWC)
- Works Well (WW)
- Works (W)
- Does Not Work (DNW)
The new criterion is more true to the mission of bringing a beverage to a restaurant not knowing what you will pair with. The point is to make the general pairings "work." Rare is the day that you bring a specific wine or sake to pair with a specific dish - we look for generalities and the entire eating/drinking experience.
This month's "Challenge" pits our dear friend "Sake" with some of the most excellent, creamy, spicy, bright and light flavors from the Middle East. Please no Fatwa's on me for pairing booze with many of the flavors of Islam. (I am a scientist not a political agitator - I think!)
My destination was an "Authentic Middle Eastern Cuisine" restaurant in Noe Valley called Fattoush - http://www.fattoush.com/. My guinea pig companion was once again Kazu Yamazaki from Japan Prestige Sake International - one of the largest importers of sake into the US. I have used Kazu's sakes on several of my quests.
For this tasting I needed some pretty "flexible" and sturdy sakes. I anticipated spice and other large flavors - and was also imagining the creaminess of the hummus and yogurt elements. Hmmmm what to bring? I definitely wanted a dry brew, but not one that was too crisp or tight. I wanted silky dry with some texture, so a natural call was the Tsukasbotan "Senchu Hassaku" Junmai (SMV: +8 Acidity: 1.4), which has a creaminess that I thought would go well with creamy flavors. The second sake needed to be sweet. I wanted something with huge acidity and big sweetness - with a solid texture that could stand up to spice. There aren't many of these brews available, but one complex and very suitable brew was the Otokoyama "Fukkosho" Junmai Genshu (SMV:-20 Acidity: 9).
Armed with our sakes we tried to order what we perceived to be "typical" Middle Eastern dishes - the ones we knew by name! We also tried to balance between meat and fish and veggie dishes. For the sake of a shorter summary I will name the dish, add a comment and follow that with the grade. And here we go!
|Hummus: (Garbanzo beans mixed with lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil)|
|•||BT:||The Tsukasabotan stays creamy and soft - good pairing! A-
The Otokoyama goes sort of goofy and tastes like apple juice.
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan smooths up the flavor but the flavor goes better with the Otokoyama! B+|
|Khyar B'laban: (Yogurt cucumber salad with garlic and fresh dill)|
|•||BT:||The Tsukasabotan goes very easy with yogurt, but the Otokoyama really enhances the dish, brings out a fat and full-bodied flavor that extols the creaminess! A-|
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan neutralizes the yogurt into more acidic feeling, but the Otokoyama harmonizes with the yogurt to give a cheesecake like feeling! Great! A|
|Tabouli: (Mix of parsley, tomatoes, green onions, fresh mint, bulgur, lemon juice, olive oil)|
|•||BT:||The Tsukasabotan conflicts with this large flavored dish, lots of disjointed flavors, and the Otokoyama gets equally as lost, but is a notch better! B-|
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan crashes with the flavors and the Otokoyama is a little bit more in sync! B|
|Babghanouge: (Roasted eggplant mixed with tahini sauce, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil.)|
|•||BT:||The Tsukasabotan takes a very distinctively soft and gentle approach to the eggplant - stays very soft. A good pairing, but the Otokoyama sweetness is outrageous with the eggplant - expansive and a broadly unique flavor! A-|
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan gets jumbled with the flavors around the eggplant, but the Otokoyama works just a little better. B|
|Rihan: (Tomatoes, and grilled eggplant dressed in basil sauce)|
|•||BT:||The Tsukasabotan gets distracted with the basil but the Otokoyama goes to the heart of the balanced matter - great flavors, really good pairing. A-|
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan works but not as well as the Otokoyama, which just feels good as a food and sake pairing. A-|
|M'shkaleh:(mushrooms, eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, and rice with tomato yogurt sauce)|
|•||BT:||The Tsukasabotan takes on the acidity of the dish but the overall feel is dulled compared to the Otokoyama that takes all of the acidity and creates a roasted quality that stuns the tomato ripeness. A-|
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan goes remarkably well with the balance of this dish. Superb! A|
|Mansaf: ("a nomadic dish" chicken cooked with aged yogurt with rice and almonds)|
|•||BT:||The Tsukasabotan accepts the creaminess - goes mellow with a great smoothness that enhances the dish. Great pairing! A-|
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan gets caught up in flavors, but the Otokoyama at least makes things even. B|
|Bamieh: (Lamb Shank cooked with okra in a thick garlic-tomato sauce)|
|•||BT:||Does not do lamb - N/A|
|•||KY:||The Tsukasabotan works to pull the flavor of the lamb out, but the acidity is best played by the Otokoyama that takes the entire set of flavors and makes a good flavor. A-|
In summary, we were both impressed by how well sake "stands-up" to such an array of huge and complex flavors that are so alien to a rice beverage. From tomatoes to yogurt there were a ton of (perceived) "no-no" flavors, but with the better "planned" sake there are some seriously good pairings awaiting. It is safe to say that the sweeter brew with an elevated acidity composure has a far better chance to hit more "essence" points than a dryer sake.