Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Peruvian Food | True Sake
August 2010

Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Peruvian Food

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, August, Newsletter, Sake Challenge
Limon 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.

Read about past challenges:
When reviewing restaurants and their specific cuisines paired with sake I use the following criteria:
  • Works World Class (WWC)
  • Works Well (WW)
  • Works (W)
  • Does Not Work (DNW)
This 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. Think of fishing with a net as opposed to a hook and line - a pairing is supposed to reach out and catch more flavors as opposed to just hitting one match.

I have done several sake and Peruvian cuisine challenges before because they work so well. Thus I felt it was time to do a repeat - why not enjoy a good thing? A re-visit to Limon (limon-sf.com) on Valencia Street was in order, especially since they re-opened after a very unlucky kitchen fire.

Accompanying me on this Sake Challenge was Nagano Prefecture's very own Naomi Fujimori who is not only a "super foodie" but also a Professional Mixologist who specializes in "multi-cultural" cocktails (Lychee Martini is a top contender). And speaking of "multicultural" what better pairing than Japanese "rice wine" and Peruvian yummy dishes from ceviche and huge corn to chicken skewers and octopus can you find?

I selected two sakes of completely different styles - one rich and round the other big and bombastic, both reasonably affordable.

The Sakes:
And away we go!

1st Course: Limon ceviche - House specialty with calamari, shrimp, and snapper
  • Kokuryu - Wow! What a great out of the gate first flavor pairing. The "thickness" of the "Black Dragon" works very well to cover and blanket the subtle acidity of the ceviche. The brew actually drinks a little sweeter - so the acidity of the dish actually turns the richness of the brew into a little sweeter flow. All of the flavors work very well, especially the snapper. Naomi said that the balance was nice.
    BT - WW
    NF - W
  • Narutotai - Likewise the nama just popped with the dish. I was afraid that there would be too much acidity but not so! The citrus elements harmonized in a bright way with the Narutotai - I wrote "Harmony of Sizzle" and this was a good thing. The sake drank a tad bit cleaner also with the zing of the ceviche - which is odd but really pretty cool. Naomi said that it tasted like a sunny dish, a good outdoor bright pairing. I agree - fresh!
    BT - WW
    NF - W
2nd Course: "Daily Special - didn't get name" but was baby octopus on warm mashed potatoes.
  • Kokuryu - What a great dish! Warm mashed potato dollops with a little baby octopus nestled in each pile. Where we had a citrus play with the ceviche in this dish we had a pure savory play. And guess what? The savory Kokuryu just rocked! Warm feeling of cuisine with round soft sake. The starch of the potatoes blended so well with the richness of the sake, which also did a great job of washing the elements away in a clean and comfortable flow. Naomi just kept nodding her head - she said she like the "feeling" of the pairing and the sake made her taste a little salt in the potatoes.
    BT - WW
    NF - WW
  • Narutotai - The nama also did well with the dish. I was a little suspect of a nama with a potato, but the starch to yeasty starch pairing did okay. The Narutotai did very well with the octopus bringing out a nice briney flavor, but it did drink a little "acidic" with the warm taters! Naomi said that she could taste a sweetness in the sake when pairing just with the octopus, and liked how the hot potatoes and cold sake worked together in her palate.
    BT - W
    NF- W
3rd Course: Ceviche de Pascado in an Aji Amerillo Sauce - snapper in a yellow cream sauce.
  • Kokuryu - Hmmmmm when I looked at the dish I said "ro-roh" (Think Scooby Doo) because the yellow looking cream sauce appeared to be "difficult." It wasn't! The Kokuryu acted like that smooth blanket to coat the mouth while the creamy flavors washed down to the back of the palate. I wrote that the sake "washed the fish" and made for a good clean flavor, which is sort of funny for a rich brew. But it was effective. Naomi said that she liked the union of cream, sake and fish.
    BT - W
    NF - W
  • Narutotai - It was a funny image - fish smothered in yellow cream sauce and sake coming from a short squat can. The result was pretty unique as the creaminess of the dish made the nama drink sweeter. The acidity I thought for sure would conflict with the cream, but it did not. The snapper by itself was really tasty with the Narutotai (Red Snapper) - go figure! Naomi had far more success with this pairing - she spoke how the sake cut the cream - cut the flavor and made the fish come first.
    BT - W
    NF - WW
4th Course: Choros Limon - Mussels
  • Kokuryu - This dish I thought may be a bit difficult for the rich Kokuryu, but to its benefit the sake has now come down to room temperature and created a good creamy flavor with the creamy mussels. I wrote "rich, round, and zesty" which sounds sort of gross, but it worked okay. The mussels became less "fishy" with the sweet richness of the sake. Naomi said that there was some acidity confusion but the favors generally worked.
    BT - W
    NF - W
  • Narutotai- Oddly enough and this is a great point - sake is like a chameleon sometimes. With a rich and round sake the mussels went creamy, but with a brash and acidic nama the mussels tasted far sweeter! Wow, what a case in point. The nama went right at the flavor of the mussel - it pushed away all the other elements and just pulled out a sweetness that was lost on the Kokuryu. Cool and clean! Naomi liked this pairing more because she said the sake was separate from the dish - two different components that worked together.
    BT - W
    NF - W
Summary:

Limon restaurant - back in the day - had a pretty good sake menu. Then over the years they started pairing it down. Eventually they only carried one or two cheap brews, and when we went there were no sakes on the menu! Arrrrrggghhh! Why not? Jeesh the flavors and feelings that we tasted were really great. All of the dishes had a freshness to them and sake and fresh go together like George Michaels and public restrooms. I liked how different sakes "washed" in different capacities - one made a dish savory and the other made a dish sweet. I thought the sakes did best with the top of the menu in terms of appetizers. All in all I would take a starch brew over a grape juice any day to a Peruvian restaurant. Any day!

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