January 2010

Sake Challenge - Sake Vs. Americana

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

For the December Sake Challenge I let my new partner in True Sake and ubber foodie Miwa Wang pick the destination and cuisine factor. She wanted to test sake with good old-fashioned "American fare" or Americana Cuisine - some would say comfort food and others would say San Franciscan fare. Miwa picked Blue Plate on upper Mission Street. She was also charged with bringing two sakes that best represent a fair and balanced sake attack from price and sweet and dry standpoints. And similar to all of these "Challenges" some times the brews you perceive as being a good match get out performed by the other brew that you thought would never go with a flavor of a dish. That is the magic of bringing sake to your table wherever you may be - you will always be surprised! Her two sakes of choice were Yuho Junmai and Ichinokura Nama Junmai.
  1. Ichinokura Nama Junmai From Miyagi Prefecture. SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.5
    Read More
  2. Yuho Junmai From Ishikawa Prefecture. SMV: +5 Acidity: 1.9
    Read More
And away we goooooooooooo!

1st Course: Baby Spinach & Frisee - housemade bacon, chopped egg, crispy chickpeas, red wine vinaigrette.

Ichinokura - The nama drinks a little sweeter with the salad and the vinaigrette pulls the acidity out of the sake a bit. The flavors all balance well with the nama as they work in tandem. One great flavor was the bacon and the Junmai. Basically the sake and the salad went very well together as they both enhanced each other in a mild way. Miwa said the sweetness of the nama stands over the salad.

Yuho - The Yuho went right at the vinaigrette and makes the salad taste more crisp and edgy. The sake gets more herbaceous - almost like a chameleon it drinks with more veggie qualities. The bitterness of the frisee is emboldened by the bitterness in the sake. Miwa said the Yuho did not stand out and it just blended in with the salad. It was a good partner.
BT - W
MW - W

2nd Course: Local Sardine Bruschetta - garlic white bean puree & nicoise olive tapenade

Ichinokura - The nama drank with a good wash-like performance taking the flavors to the back of the palette. One benefit is that the gentle sweetness of the nama brought out a saltiness in the sardine that I liked. Definitely a good flavor partner that produced a long finish. Miwa's toast was a little burned so she tasted lots of the burned part and it did not go too well with the sweet nama. It did not enhance the flavor of the dish to her.
BT - W

Yuho - Wow - the Yuho just explodes with flavor with this dish. It gets so wide and the acidity jumps much more. Is it a complex pairing or a bad one - I could not tell. Such a carnival of flavors all over the place. One excellent flavor was the white bean puree with the Yuho - Yummy! - creamy and rich! Miwa said the Yuho brought out the bitterness of the burnt toast. When tasted specifically with the sardine it worked better and provided a good flavor background.
BT - W

3rd Course: Blue Plate Meatloaf - with mashed potatoes and blue lake green beans

Ichinokura - I don't eat beef but I took a couple little bites - I mean come on sake and meatloaf who wants to miss that? I thought that the nama stayed fruity upfront and the meatloaf tasted more savory with the gentle sweetness. In a sense it made the dish taste better - the potatoes also tasted good with the nama. Miwa said the nama brought out a Bar-B-Q flavor in the meat and really complimented the dish. She also really liked the potato and nama play.
BT - W
MW - W

Yuho- In a word this chameleon sake did it again and drank very savory with the meatloaf. In fact it made the meat taste more "meaty" but the acidity of the brew was a big problem with this pairing. Too much acidity which is weird as you would think it would work with the meat. Miwa was confused by this as well. Overall she thought the pairing did not work because of the bitterness and the acidity of the sake smacked into the pairing instead of blending in. I could see she was bummed about this as she was certain that the Yuho would go with the meat!

4th Course: Hill Farm Pork Chop - maple baked beans, mustard greens and buttermilk onion rings.

Ichinokura - I LOVED this pairing! The nama was now closer to room temperature in my glass, but man did it drink well with the Pork Chop! A terrific sweet and savory play - the juices of the pork melded superbly with the nama creating a salty, sweet and rich flavor that was great! This is one of those WOW pairings! Miwa liked the pairing as well, but she was blown away by the maple beans and the nama together. She called that flavor World Class.

Yuho - I liked how the Yuho worked with the Pork Chop as it pulled flavors that the nama did not. I wrote that the Yuho has "reach" and pulled pepper flavors from the dish - in a way this Junmai drank with serious red wine like qualities in this pairing - bold and pronounced. The Yuho conflicted with the beans. Miwa said that the Yuho won over the flavor of the dish - meaning it was too strong. The mustard greens really highlighted the bitterness of the sake and she felt that it did not work with the beans as well as the pork.

5th Course: Macaroni and Drunken Spanish Goat Cheese

Ichinokura - Creamy and fruity! It works for the first part of the sip, but when the flavors go towards the back of the pallet a bucket of acidity presents itself. The cheese controls the fruitiness until the end of the sip. Sort of a unique flavor and feeling. Miwa said the nama blended fine with the overall flavor of the mac and cheese and she got a lot of minerality out of the sake when tasted with the crust of the dish.
BT - W
MW - W

Yuho - Basically the Yuho hit the cheese in the teeth! It works against the cheesiness and brings out a very sharp tanginess. The brew does not go creamy at all and produces a serious conflict. Miwa said that the Yuho is too much for the dish and the large bitterness conflicts on all levels.


Well this Challenge fell in-line with the others in the sense that the sakes worked on so many different levels. I will say this however the Yuho had a bad day! It is a great sake and has a lot of wonderful aspects but the strengths did not present themselves when we thought that they would. I think the Yuho set a new DNW record, and I believe so too did Miwa. Would I take sake to my next "Americana" meal - you bet! The brews created some great flavors and worked in unison on most occasions. The pork chop and the nama was out of this world, and Miwa won't stop talking about the Ichinokura and the maple baked beans. I expected more successes than what was produced, but I said to Miwa - what one wine could have worked better in unison.

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