July 2010

Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Turkish Food

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, July, Newsletter, 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.

Once again I was fortunate enough to coax Kazu Yamazaki from Japan Prestige Sake International, Inc (the number one importer of Japanese sake into the states) for yet another mystical sake pairing meal. This month's adventure was truly that - an adventure of the culinary senses as we paired Japanese "rice wine" with Turkish cuisine (which as I learned has a ton of Mediterranean influences/overlaps). There aren't that many purely Turkish restaurants to choose from, but luckily for us a new one called Tuba (on Guerrero) opened several months back.

I was so taken with this pairing that I actually went back to Tuba with two more sakes and this time brought with me a sake fan in the form of Nancy Summersgil. Of all my fellow Sake Challenge participants Nancy by far represented the most "skeptical" critic with the pairings.

Herewith is the review broken down together with all four sakes at once rather than separate accounts:

The Sakes:

  • Jokigen Junmai Ginjo
  • Miyasaka Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Nama
  • Narutotai Yamahai Junmai Ginjo
  • Tsukasabotan "Hana" Junmai (Limited Release)
1st Course: Pathean Salatis - Grilled eggplant puree with bell pepper, tomato, and garlic

Jokigen - This dish was far less flavorful than one would imagine - it was light and creamy in character and the Jokigen acted like a good wash of the mild flavors. It mellowed the acidity of the peppers, stayed very balanced, and pulls a smoky veggie quality out of the dish. NOTE - Jokigen with just the roasted red pepper was an incredible flavor.
NS - W

Miyasaka - The nama acted like a blanket for the flavors and the feelings of this dish, and remarkably the sake drinks drier. There was a good balance in this pairing as well and the overall combination worked well. Nancy stated that the nama brought out more acidity in the dish.

2nd Course: Ezme - Crushed walnuts, pepper paste, tomato paste, garlic and cumin

Jokigen - This dish is hot - as in spicy - from the get-go. It is also an extremely complex group of flavors all wound up in a ball. The Jokigen brightens the pairing immediately and brings out a zesty finish. I was trying to imagine what wine would work with all of the layers here and feel that the Jokigen did a good job holding everything together. Nancy stated that the sake made the dish spicier.
BT - W

Miyasaka - The acidity and spice of the dish runs face first into the nama creating a zing of flavors that are brisk and hot, "but it's okay as there is more of a cover or blanket feel" which reduced the conflict. A true sweet heat play. Nancy stated again that this brew made for more spice in the pairing.
BT - W
NS - W

Narutotai - The Yamahai Ginjo starts as a cover for the dish and then gets spicy as the spice in the dish catches up. A rich heat flavor is created, but the overall result is too tingly. Kazu said that there was a bit of creamy flavor created by the pairing and the sake brought out more flavors.
KY - W

Tsukasabotan - Unbelievable - the lightest of the sakes did absolutely the best. I do not know how, but the Junmai "kills the spice" and brought out the flavor of the nuts. A very solid pairing. Kazu agreed and stated that the sake stripped down the elements of the food and added a sweetness to the dish. Really amazing!

3rd Course: Beyti Adana - Adana (beef and lamb mix) wrapped in lavash bread served with tomato sauce and yogurt

Jokigen - This is a good dish for sake believe it or not, and it has a lot going on. The Ginjo stood up to the test of the tomatoes and the yogurt. It made the flavors smokier. The brew itself drank a touch sweeter. The Jokigen matches the complexities of the dish and Nancy said there was some harmony in the pairing.
BT - W
NS - W

Miyasaka - The girth of the nama goes right at the heart of the deep flavors of this dish and makes for a more bold and acidic flavor. The sweetness jumps on the meat and bread elements and the tomato pops more with the nama. A good collection of new flavors emerge.
BT - W
NS - W

4th Course: Feta Prawns - Sauteed in a Pepperocino sauce

Narutotai - This dish proved to be incredibly spicy and the Narutotai held some of the heat. That said it did go very well with the shrimp and really went creamy with the butter elements. A sweetness came forth and the brew acted as a good cleaner of all the flavors. There was a tingle of heat in the finish. Kazu pulled the same "milky" flavors of the sake as well.
BT - W
KY - W

Tsukasabotan - Again this modest brew became a smother monster on the heat. Fascinating how a mild and somewhat thin Junmai could pounce on all of the spicy elements to create and even flavored dish. I wrote that it "works the heat"! Kazu stated that the brew mellowed out the spice.
BT - W


In one of the on-line reviews for Tuba a poster wrote: "corkage is only $10 so bring along a big red (wine)" I am trying to figure out how one big red could cover all the angles of flavors that reside in Turkish cuisine. Perhaps it's impossible, but that said the sakes - all 4 - had their ups and downs. Although there were no WWC pairings the sakes did a good job of dancing with the complexities of the dishes without getting overwhelmed. In many cases the sakes made the dishes more balanced and tastier. I was generally pleased how the brews stood up to the tomato elements and found strength in the additional flavors such as cheese and yogurt. The owner of the restaurant was sold and wants to put a sake or two on his menu, so I guess in the end sake does go well with Turkish food.

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