Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Cuban (Pan Latin) | True Sake
December 2010

Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Cuban (Pan Latin)

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, December, Newsletter, Sake Challenge
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.

Cuban, Cuban, Cuban! I've always wanted to take rice and water to that funky little nation, and with the help of a great restaurant on Mission Street called Charanga "Pan Latin Cuisine" (www.charangasf.com) I did not have to alter my passport to get there. Charanga is a superb dinning experience and many thanks to Heather and Chef Gaby for making our night one to remember. In tow on my exotic travels to that forbidden land, I was honored to once again have Kazu Yamazaki from Japan Prestige Sake International - sake importers - and Daijiro Hosaka who is the international face of Niigata's very famous Shirataki brewery, makers of Jozen Mizunogotoshi. Dai-san spends a good deal of time in the States trying to get more folks to drink Jozen. The three of us had a terrific time throwing Japanese sake at Cuban inspired cuisine, and I made Dai-san try to be as partial as he could even though his sake was one of the chosen brews.

This month's Challenge featured two popular sakes:
  • Kouro Junmai Ginjo
  • Jozen Junmai Ginjo
And away we go!

1st Course: Ceviche Tico Classic - wild red snapper, peppers, jalapenjo, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and lemon juice.
  • Kouro - The nice full-figured body of the Kouro takes all of the acidity and creates a rounder and more mellow flavor of the snapper. Basically the brew throws a net over all of the bright flavors and what is left is a unified flavor that is very well balanced. I'm impressed with how this Ginjo stands toe to toe with the explosion of acidity. Kazu felt that the Kouro stood too tall and the booziness of the sake washed off the assorted flavors and left a fishy flavor.
    BT - WW
    KY - DNW
    DH - W
  • Jozen - The Jukusei Junmai Ginjo absorbs the pronounced acidity of the dish and then acts like a wash or "usher" of flavor through the palette. What is interesting is that the acidity and crisp flavors actually make the sake drink drier. A very good isolation flavor were the tomatoes with the Jozen, which created a subtle umami play. Kazu said the Jozen cut the flavors and cut the "vinegar," creating a good pairing.
    BT - W
    KY - WW
    DH - W
2nd Course: Chifrijo - layers of rice and beans, pico de gallo with crackling pig.
  • Kouro - This very savory dish jumps right into your mouth with salty and rich elements. The Kouro bounces off the soul of the flavors, and conflicts to a certain extent as the alcohol of the brew comes forward. There is a unique tingle that is created in the pairing, almost a zestiness that isn't too off-putting as it brightens the richness. Kazu said that it didn't hurt or help the dish.
    BT - W
    KY - W
    DH - W
  • Jozen - Basically this dish is ricy, spicy, and savory and the Jozen takes each component and settles them together, a calming of sorts. There is a peek-a-boo acidity to the finish but on the whole this is the point of pairing a libation with cuisine - to capture flavors and make them better. Jozen succeeds in this capacity. Kazu said the sake adds a sweetness to the dish and cuts the saltiness.
    BT - WW
    KY- WW
    DH - WW
3rd Course: Albondigas - little Cuban meatballs, pimenton sauce.
  • Kouro - This is a pretty spicey little meatball! As I don't beef, I only tried a portion and was pretty amazed how the Kouro one-upped the spice. The body and texture of the brew covered all of the heat and subdued the spice - quite a feat! Kazu said the spicy dish stands by itself and the sake just walks along.
    BT - WW
    KY - W
    DH - W
  • Jozen - Uh-Oh! The Jozen is almost too clean for this spice fight and sadly there is a bit of bitterness that comes out of the brew. It doesn't get overwhelmed but it does disappear and gets lost in the spice tornado. Kazu said the Jozen washed off the spice enough that he called it canceling each other out.
    BT - DNW
    KY - W
    DH - W
4th Course: Panchanga de Mariscos - shrimp, mussels, calamari, fish, spicy coconut-lemongrass broth, green plantains, yucca, and chayote.
  • Kouro - There is a lot going on with this offering, flavors abound and the Kouro unbelievably gets lost. I wrote that it gets distracted and uneven, but I did like how it made the mussels taste fresher. Kazu said the Kouro and the coconut broth worked great together.
    BT - W
    KY- WW
    DH - W
  • Jozen - Again the thinness of the Jozen compared to the Kouro allowed this brew to be more of a wash of flavors. The broth makes Jozen drink sweeter and more exotic. And by themselves the mussels get far creamier with the Jozen. Kazu said that Jozen and the seafood go together no problem, and the sake harmonizes with the coconut soup.
    BT - WW
    KY - W
    DH - W
5th Course: Lechon Asado - Cuban-style roast pork marinated in citrus, garlic, and oregano with hash.
  • Kouro - The Kouro comes out swinging on this pairing as it slaps the savoriness of this dish in the face and follows with an acidic push. Sharp and boozy is the immediate push, but the finish does better. The Kouro and the hash work well. Kazu said that the brew gets almost bitter and the alcohol comes forth too much.
    BT - W
    KY - DNW
    DH - W
  • Jozen - Oh boy! This is one of those good union plays on account of the feeling of the pairing. The flavor is all forward, and then the feeling comes into play - large and lush, smooth and round with a great finish. The garlic and citrus bounce in flavor tandems with the sake, but then they blend in union to make a splendid swallow. Kazu said the Jozen highlights the pork and harmonizes with the flavors.
    BT - WWW
    KY - W
    DH - W
Summary:

Damn! What can I say? This is sort of the essence of why I do these Sake Challenges - to give a small glimpse at the possibility that sake does go with insane flavors such as lemons, citrus, tomatoes, jalapeños, garlic, and coconut-lemongrass. The best description about this pairing is that sake does indeed work well with the exotic nature of Cuban food on several levels. First sake has an uncanny ability to dance with all sorts of flavors - to create new flavors and to harmonize with base elements of the dish. Secondly sake has the ability to corral or re-group wild flavors into a superior drinking experience. Lastly, I am always impressed how sake has "skill-set" to make foods feel better in the palette, and Cuban food is no exception. When I decide to break our Government's ban on travel to Cuba, I will do so with sake in hand and a smile on my chops.

Choose Your Sake by Category

Blog Search

The Archives

The Archives

Search True Blog

SF Store Info

STORE HOURS

Phone No : (415) 355-9555

Monday - Thursday : 12pm - 7pm

Friday - Saturday : 11am - 7pm

Sunday : 11am - 6pm

Directions

Sake Delivered
to Your Door!

Free delivery on any order over $100!

Call us at 415-355-9555 for our concierge service. Same and next-day delivery in SF and we ship to anywhere in California as well as DC, ID, MO, NM, NV, NY, OR, VA and WY!

Having an Event?

Contact us here for organizing sake tastings for your company, group or private affair!