November 2010

Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Spanish Tapas

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, Newsletter, November, Sake Challenge
Esperpento Logo 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.

This month's Challenge featured two popular sakes and the woman who imports them. Hiromi Iiuchi has played a very large and impressive role in the short history of small brewery exports to the US. She is one of a few sake dignitaries, who have been at the game from way back when. She is the Director of Kuramoto Selects and has a stellar sake pallet to boot. This is here second Sake Challenge. Where did we go? We took two of her brews and visited a wonderful Spanish tapas and paellas restaurant called Esperpento in the Mission - And with a bi-line of "Food and Fantasy of Spain" how could the fantasy of Japan go wrong?

I selected two sakes to attack this Spanish fare:
  • Daishichi "Masakura" Junmai Ginjo
  • Ken Junmai Daiginjo
And away we go!

Esperpento 1st Course: Jamon Serrano en pan con tomate - Canapes of Spanish cured ham on toasted French bread, spread with ripe tomatoes, and olive oil.
  • Ken - A very nice pairing as the acids of the Ken blend with the acidity of the onion and tomato and the salty ham goes surprisingly bright with a long savory tail. The sake really enhances the flavor and the feeling of the cured ham and works surprisingly well with the tomatoes. Hiromi felt that the sake became a little fruitier because of the saltiness of the ham.
    BT - WW
    HI - W
  • Daishichi - This kimoto brew has presence and a velvety feel and that feel wraps up all of the flavors of the dish - a sort of feeling blanket that absorbs the tomato acidity and makes the savory ham drink smooth and rich. By itself with no bread, tomatoes, and onions the Daishichi works quite well with the ham for a "wow" pairing. Hiromi said the Daishichi controlled the saltiness of the dish.
    BT - WW
    HI - WW
2nd Course: Tortilla de potata - Potato and onion omelet "THE Spanish tapas dish"
  • Ken - The acidity of the sake comes out with the starch union. The saltiness of the potatoes makes the brew drink a little crisper and acidic. Ken does provide a good wash, but the flavor of the dish changes with the sake and starch combination. Hiromi thought the starchiness of the dish makes the sake drink pretty fruity.
    BT - W
    HI - W
  • Daishichi - The smoothness of the sake blends very well with the smooth potato feeling. The balance of the sake does very well with the salty and starchy appearance of the "tortilla de potata." A very good union of rice and potatoes! Hiromi was impressed with how balanced the Daishichi drank and how it tasted less fruity with the sodium of the dish. A mild flavor and feeling.
    BT - WW
    HI - WW
3rd Course: Croquetes de Bacalaco - Salt cod croquettes.
  • Ken - This Daiginjo takes the creamy and saltiness of the salted cod and pushes this large flavor to the back of the pallet. The Ken makes the cod a little more salty and makes the creaminess a little more light - I wrote "It lightens the dish." Hiromi thought the Ken really worked with the salted cod as it took all of the flavors and straightened them out. Dare we say it "cut" through the dish.
    BT - W
    HI - WW
  • Daishichi - A very nice pairing. The Daishichi's smoothness and sound qualities blend extremely well with the salty and "fishy" flavor of the dish. The creaminess of the sake immediately attracts the creaminess of the salted cod. And interestingly enough the sake drank a little more "salty" in flavor, which is probably on account of the complete sodium infusion of the salted cod. Hiromi felt it was a better match brew for the dish.
    BT - WW
    HI - WW
Esperpento 4th Course: Paella de Marisros - Seafood paella with calamari, shrimp, clams, and mussels. The traditional dish of choice!
  • Ken - The temperature of the Ken has now come closer to room temp, which brings out more body and wine-like finesse - good acidity meets the rice of the dish and brings out more fruit in the sake. The body of Ken accepts all of the flavor actions from the seafood to the rice itself. A very good union of body, acidity, and flavor. Hiromi thought the pairing worked initially and then the finish didn't work.
    BT - WW
    HI - W
  • Daishichi - What is ironic is the fact that Hiromi felt the Ken finish didn't finish and I felt the same about the Daishichi. The start was superb as the creamy brew hit the ricy dish head on - rich and savory and velvety - but the finish was tight and too tingly. Hiromi loved the mellow flavor union and especially the middle mouth feeling.
    BT - W
    HI - WW

Man I love doing these Sake Challenges, because sake has so many strengths. Hiromi recommended that we try a glass of white wine that was recommended by the host to go with the spectrum of dishes. In comparison to the wine the sakes tasted far more complex and made a far better pairing partner. In honesty the wine ended up taking on a more of a juice feeling - too sweet, too acidic, too brash. It was a great lesson, and I was quite impressed how two premium sakes stood up to a ton of flavors, and enhanced most of the dishes. Sake goes with Paella - go figure!

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