August 2008

Sake Challenge - SF Chronicle Follows BT on Sake Challenge

Posted by admin in 2008, August, Newsletter, Sake Challenge

sake challenge aug 2008I 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:

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.

This month's "Sake Challenge" pitted our dear friend "Sake" with some of the best French cuisine outside of that "Old European" nation. As a special twist my companion was a reporter from the SF Chronicle, who was "tagging along" to observe the union of Japanese Sake with classic and modern French flavors. This "Sake Challenge" had the great pleasure of taking two brews to Chez Spencer one of my favorite spots in the Bay Area.

I selected the Yuki No Bosha Dai Ginjo with an SMV: +4 and Acidity: 1.3, because it is a genshu (undiluted) sake and has such a complex structure feel and flavor that I thought it would work well with the complexity of the French dishes. The other sake was the Wakatake Junmai Genshu with an SMV: +7 and Acidity: 1.5, because it has very pronounced body and structure that do not bend under the weight of rich robust flavors.

The reporter did not reveal his grades, because he was going to submit an article reviewing the effort, so I will just give my grades. (That said on our second tour of sake duty at a Mexican restaurant the reporter did share his grades, which I will write about in the next Newsletter.)

Starter One: Bread and Butter!

  • WAK:Dryness of brew brings out a little sweetness to both the sake and the bread. W
  • YUK: Gets creamy and soft and the bread dissolves nicely in this fluid.W


Starter Two: Bouillabaisse Soup with Saffron Aioli

  • WAK:Tingle of the soup pairs with the strength of the Junmai - acidity is balanced and there is a very good texture play. The sake mutes the tickle of the spice. W
  • YUK: The fruit conflicts with the tomato acidity - sharp! Okay feeling but the acidity jumps too much with the fruit. DNW


Starter Three: Curried Cauliflower Veloute (think soup)

  • WAK:Goes very even with the flavor of the soup. The flavor and feel works - a very elegant velvety texture play comes out. Almost creamy! W
  • YUK: The creaminess of soup pairs very well with the fruit of the sake. A very unusual pairing in principal, but the result was a great flavor that filled all the recesses of the mouth. WW


Starter Four: Steamed Green Asparagus - shaved parmesan & truffle emulsion

  • WAK:This sake is the best artichoke sake in the business, so I thought that it would excel with the asparagus, but the pairing was only okay. The brew pulls a green/veggie flavor from the asparagus that is almost sweet and then flows into the richness of the truffle oil. W
  • YUK: The asparagus goes base with the Dai Ginjo - an overall evenness that makes the pairing solid as it mutes the truffle oil and the parmesan "largeness." W


First Course: Smoked Duck Breast a La Lyonnaise - poached eggs & lardons

  • WAK:Yes!! Great flavor to feel ratio! The savoriness of the sake dances with the savory tones of the duck. The egg and the Junmai also do so well together to create a creamy soft pairing. This is a great match with savory highlights, dryness of brew goes a tad sweet!WWC
  • YUK: The fruit comes forth, but is a little lost and is a subtle distraction to the savoriness of the dish. It works as a flow together, but it's two dances not one. W


Second Course: Foie Gras Torchon - vanilla scented black berry, pain de campagne

  • WAK:Creamy and salty flavors makes the sake go creamy but lighter than usual. Intense flavor is supported by the sake, but not really enhanced. W
  • YUK: Taking the black berry in with the Foie Gras makes this a superb flavor that is rich and fruity and salty. The fruit gets balanced and the sweetness comes forth on the creamy salty richness of the Foie Gras. Really great pairing! WW


Third Course: Truffled Artic Char Pappillote - gypsy peppers, julienne vegetables, & truffles

  • WAK:The flavor of the fish is hidden amongst the wine and peppers push, and the sake goes even. Basically a neutralizer as a pairing, which conflicts a little with the wine in the dish. W
  • YUK: This is okay, but the fruit of the sake brings forth more acidity from the peppers and wine base. The flavor goes all the way to the back of the palette with the sake - tingle! W


Fourth Course: Wood Seared Venison Tenderloin - jabron potato, juniper berry-peppercorn jus

  • WAK:The Junmai stands up to the strength and full-bodied flavor of the venison. Good balance. W
  • YUK: Very nice pairing! The fruit brings out the peppercorn with a juicy effectiveness. There is a nice creamy element to the venison that comes out in the acidity and fruit of the sake. WW


Fifth Course: Forest Mushroom Risotto - alba&brown clamshell, nameko, trumpet royal, velvet piopini & shaved parmesan

  • WAK:Creamy and Cheesy! Yes! A really great pairing. The rich mushrooms come exploding out of the flavor of the brew. If this sake were lightly warmed it would be out of this world. Rich and creamy - superb! WWC
  • YUK: Goes a little bonkers with the fruit. Fruity shrooms gets a little confusing. It's okay but not great! W



From the colloquial bread and butter to the foie gras these sakes had no problem standing up to the entire offering. Sure there was one or two pairings that didn't work that well, but on the whole the sakes excelled and made many of the flavors better. They worked across the board - from truffle oil to saffron aioli these flavors are huge - but the sakes all stood their ground. I was pleasantly surprised that on the whole I took the largest and most complex French flavors and paired them successfully with "rice wine" from Japan. And the ultimate reward were the two pairings that were "World Class." Do not fear the French - sake has a home at any French table!

W 12
WW 3

Total = Sake Works With French Cuisine

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