Sake Challenge - Sake Goes To Crab Shacks & Fish Houses!
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:
- Sake vs. New Orleans fare - yes, Cajun flavors galore - Aug '07 Newsletter
- Sake vs. Italian Jan '08 Newsletter
- Sake vs. Peruvian March '08
- Sake vs. Brazilian April '08
- Sake vs. Middle Eastern July '08
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 challenge stems from a brief trip that I took to Half Moon Bay, which is 45 minute south of San Francisco. While on a semi- vacation I visited three different sea food restaurants that could best be described by the title "crab shacks" loaded with freshly caught local sea fare.
Let me be blunt - sake works with everything from the ocean! So seafood restaurants are slamdunks! Oysters? Of course! Crab? Absolutely! Shrimp? You bet! Calamari? No prob! Seafood dives are the best grounds for bringing a bottle of sake. Herewith are some general pairings that exploded and excelled so much that you should take serious note! (What really pleased me is that almost every sake worked really well with each cocktail sauce from each restaurant)
Here are the brews that I brought: Kanbara Junmai Ginjo, Wakatake Onigoroshi Junmai Ginjo, Gokyo Junmai, Senpuku Junmai Dai Ginjo, and Chikurin Junmai Ginjo.
The three restaurants were "Sam's Chowder House" (Grade A) - "Miramar Beach Restaurant" (Grade C+) - "Ketch Joanne Restaurant" (Grade A/A+)
I will list the top five pairings and the three really good pairings and one or two that didn't work:
- Sam's Chowder House - Shrimp Cocktail paired with Kanbara "Bride of the Fox" Junmai Ginjo.The hint of natural sweetness in the shrimp alone pulls out a touch of fruit in the sake. The lemon wedge squeezed over the shrimp makes a very elegant pairing - bright and rich! The cocktail sauce with the shrimp bite creates an incredibly balanced and smoky - honey-like flavor that is superb. The body of the brew is fitting! WWC
- Sam's Chowder House - Crab Louise Salad paired with Wakatake Junmai Ginjo.The creaminess of the dressing makes the brew go even and balanced. The freshness and crispiness of the lettuce brings out a brightness of the sake - it stays up with the pairing. A good and even compliment. Makes sense - does not detract - compliments the fresh flavors. WW
- Miramar Beach Restaurant - Seafood Margarita paired with Senpuku Kura Junmai Dai Ginjo Genshu.This ceviche style dungness crab, shrimp, scallop and cod in lime juice and tomatoes goes very well with acidity of the sake. The balance of the brew neutralizes the brashness of the dish - the tomato and citrus elements bond with the fruitiness of the sake. A very good handshake of bold flavors made fresher and more even with the sake. WW
- Ketch Joanne Restaurant - Avocado Stuffed with Crab paired with Chikurin Junmai Ginjo.The creaminess of the sake goes well with the soft textures of the avo and the crab - a velvety blend. The sweetness of the brew really works - good feeling but even better flavor. Each element works - the avo yes - the crab yes - the cocktail sauce yes. Just a powerfully clean and firm pairing that brings natural sweetness out and balances the cocktail sauce. WW
- Sam's Chowder House - Cioppino paired with Kanbara Junmai Ginjo.Savory shellfish stew just pumps with this savory Ginjo. Great texture and feel of this sake goes straight at the flavor - buttery tomato richness is enhanced by the brew - great pairing. The acidity gets blended into a mouthful of rich and savory flavors that are buoyed by a well-balanced sake. WW
Three good pairings:
- Sam's Chowder House - Seafood Paella paired with Wakatake Junmai Ginjo.This Spanish rice based dish dances very well with the brightness of the sake. The Ginjo takes the acidity of the pairing out of the picture and brings a richness to the dish. The balance is very solid as a solid sake meets in the middle of the road with large flavors - good play. There is some heat as in acidity juggling, but it all goes even. WW
- Miramar Beach Restaurant - Crab Cake paired with Gokyo Junmai.This fried crab cake is buffered by the sake. The Gokyo enveloped the oily fried coating and brings out a savory and sweet overtone that works very well. This is a very good texture play that would be even better if the crab cake weren't overcooked! W
- Ketch Joanne Restaurant - Oyster Shooter paired with Chikurin Junmai Ginjo.This oyster shooter with cocktail sauce is offered with Vodka, but I did with sake. The Chikurin went well with the briny elements of the oyster - yes that means a fruity brew partied with salty flavor. Throw in the cocktail sauce and this pairing is quite nice! W
One that didn't work:
- Sam's Chowder House - New England Clam Chowder paired with Kanbara Junmai Ginjo.The acidity of the sake comes out too strong against the creaminess of the dish. This is a distraction. The richness of the brew does not balance with the mild cream tones of the chowder - makes me wonder what wine would work. It's not cloying, but it is not a good pairing either. DNW
In summary please walk away from this Crab Shack Sake Boogie with the firm belief that sake works. The balance of a starch-based beverage far and away excels over a grape juice when it comes to elements from the sea. The flavors were outstanding and the texture and feeling of most of these pairings were so welcoming. Sake and seafood make great partners. The next time that you think about brewski and a bucket of clams or a grilled fish and a Sauvignon Blanc think about adding sake to the mix. Sake works - sake belongs!