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Sake Challenge – Hiromi Iiuchi Puts Sake Up Against French Fare

I am on a spiritual sake quest that will finally put a nail in the coffin of the "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. 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 here!

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.

Sake Challenge July 2014

This month’s Sake Challenge featured Hiromi Iiuchi from Kuramoto Selects Sake Importers from NYC. Hiromi is one of the storied heroes of sake in the United States. She has been there in the sake trenches for over 20 years promoting sake and her fingerprint is very much on the success that sake has seen in New York City and all over the US. She has been very good for the sake industry and she is a great person.

Our Sake Challenge took us to the new French restaurant in Hayes Valley called Monsieur Benjamin and I selected two of Hiromi’s sakes from her portfolio that we sell at True Sake. Hiromi has a tremendous food palate and her sake palate is one of the best in the biz! She has been on two other Sake Challenges and she is a believer in the notion that sake does not only belong in a sushi restaurant. And away we go pairing sake with high-end French cuisine.

Sake #1 – Ken Daiginjo

Sake #2 – Harada Muroka Nama Genshu

First Course – Oeufs Mayonnaise (Deviled Eggs)

  • HI: Ken = W; Harada = W
    • The egg is very salty and the Ken does well pairing in the front of the palate and the Harada harmonizes with the dish in the after palate.
  • BT: Ken = W; Harada = WW
    • The mayonnaise made the Ken go creamy and it really cleaned up the saltiness. The Harada really wakes up the dish and makes a fun bright savory flavor that really enhances the taste.

Second Course – Pommes Gaufrette with Whipped Chicken Liver

  • HI: Ken = W; Harada = W
    • Both sakes increased the saltiness of this dish, but they did not detract from the over all flavor.
  • BT: Ken = W; Harada = WW
    • The whipped chicken was very creamy and the Ken did a good job of cutting the cream and cleaning up the flavor. The Ken drank drier with the combination of the potato chip and liver. The Nama Harada really pulled the chicken flavor out of the dish and made the pairing taste more like liver. The sake drank sweeter with the pairing of the potato chip and the liver.

Third Course – Pate de Campagne with whole grain mustard and cornichons

  • HI: Ken = WW; Harada = W
    • Sake always works well with vinegar and the vinegar in the mustard and the cornichon makes this dish a good pairing for Ken. Harada also does well with the pate, but the Ken works better.
  • BT: Ken = DNW; Harada = WW
    • The Ken goes absolutely flat with the pate and is uneventful with the mustard. The Harada tastes far more fun and really brings out a pork flavor. It makes the pate brighter and less savory and generally improves the dish.

Fourth Course – Steak Tartare with egg yolk and Pissaladiere lavash

  • HI: Ken = WWC; Harada = W
    • The Ken works extremely well tying in all the flavors of the pickles, cappers, and egg. Ken attacks the acidity of the dish and makes it great with lots of layered textures. The Harada was okay but the Ken was amazing.
  • BT: Ken = WWC; Harada = WW
    • What a superb pairing!! Ken acts like a perfect guiderail for all of the flavors of this dish. It mellows the beef flavor and goes very gentle with the egg to make an amazing feeling and flavor pairing. The Harada also does well but the acidity of the dish becomes more apparent with the Nama.

Fifth Course – Quail ala Chosseur with mushrooms savory cabbage and vin Jaune

  • HI: Ken = WW; Harada = W
    • The Ken really promotes the savoriness of this dish, and creates a new flavor that is more on the veggie side than fowl. The Harada did okay, but it really worked with the mushroom sauce.
  • BT: Ken = WW; Harada = W
    • The Ken really went well with the quail, it cleaned up the sauce a little to bring forth more of a fowl flavor. It made a gentle sweetness come forth in the sake, which was nice with all of the savory tones. The Harada became a little acidic and sizzled a little.


Would I ever take sake to a French restaurant again? You bet! Both brews did well and in most cases really well. We only had one DNW and that was close, so overall the combination of our starch bevrages with often salty and savory dishes worked together and harmonized in most cases. Overall I felt that the brightness and the bigness of the Nama Harada did better than the Daiginjo Ken. In most cases it absorbed the salty and savory elements and enhanced the dishes. That said Ken had that “WOW” moment with the steak tartare, which was totally unpredictable. Hiromi felt both sakes did well, but she leaned towards Ken being the better dance partner. Go tell a friend, sake pairs well with French fare!

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