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Sake Challenge – Sake vs. Rich Table “California Modern Cuisine”

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.

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 was an instant classic because it put the final nail in the coffin of the belief system that only wine pairs well with California cuisine. Wrong! Sake works so well with the clean and complex tones found at the very hip and trendy Rich Table ( ) restaurant in our very own Hayes Valley.

Along with sake importer Kazu Yamazaki from Japan Prestige Sake International I brought two very tasty sakes that Kazu imports. The first was the very yummy nama version of Tsukasabotan’s Senchu Hasaku (JG) and the very flavorful Junmai from Ohyama called Tomizu or “Special Water.” And away we went!

Tsukasabotan’s Senchu Hasaku

Ohyama Omizu "Special Water"

Starter: Sardine chips with a horseradish crème fraiche

  • Kazu:
    • Tsukasabotan – WWC – “The sake makes a sweet flavor with the fish and it neutralizes the horseradish and gets savory with the chip.”
    • Ohyama – WW – “The sake makes the fish taste like fish and doesn’t get over powered by the spicy sauce.”
  • Beau:
    • Tsukasabotan – W – “I thought the pairing would be better but the nama acts very reserved and the sardine stays a sardine, controlled pairing.”
    • Ohyama – WW – “Very nice pairing. The sake dances with the starchy chip which brings out the fruit of the Ohyama and the sardine goes neutral not fishy.”

Second Course: Hamachi Crudo – Rich Table furikake with tomato jam

  • Kazu:
    • Tsukasabotan – WWC - “The sake blends with the dish and makes it lighter and pulls the umami out of the tomato jam.”
    • Ohyama – WW- “The sake tones down the fish flavor in a better way with a subtle impact but gentle.”
  • Beau:
    • Tsukasabotan – WW – “The nama works to balance the dish and creates a subtle new flavor that is less fishy.”
    • Ohyama – WW – “The Tomizu envelopes the dish and brings out more of the tomato tones of the jam.” 

Third Course: Chicken Liver Mousse with grilled onion Brioche 

  • Kazu:
    • Tsukasabotan – WW – “The sake separates all of the elements and brings forth the sweet flavor of the sake”.
    • Ohyama – WW – “The onion is a bit strong for the sake, but the sake creates a better harmony.”
  • Beau:
    • Tsukasabotan – WW – “There are plenty of flavors in this complex dish and the sake brings forth the richness and makes each individual flavor more aware. Does not overpower the dish.”
    • Ohyama – WW – “The Tomizu goes right at this dish and does a wonderful texture play with the rich creaminess making the pairing very smooth in flavor and feeling.”

Fourth Course: Tagliatelle Octopus confit nori spicy breadcrumbs and okra

  • Kazu:
    • Tsukasabotan – DNW – “The dish is too confusing with the sake with too much acidity coming forth.”
    • Ohyama – W – “The sake’s sweet flavor adds an extra flavor to the dish, but not very interesting.”
  • Beau:
    • Tsukasabotan – W – “The sake really makes you taste the starch of the dish. There is a salty and savory play but the nama goes into a neutral mode and then goes blank.”
    • Ohyama – WW – “Again the fatness of the Tomizu puts a sweet blanket on the spice and crunch and covers the craziness.”


Wow! Perhaps it has been a while since the last Sake Challenge but we gave a lot of WW’s and WWC’s in the beginning of this pairing. The sakes really spoke for themselves and were far more positive in terms of enhancing rather than distracting from the complex flavors of the dishes. Talk about a serious partner to the cuisine at Rich Table! Those guys better get a sake on their menu soon! With only one DNW it is safe to say that the California cuisine at Rich Table is perfect for sake.

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