February 2012

Sake Challenge - Sake vs. A Classic Crab House "The Franciscan"

Posted by Beau Timken in 2012, February, 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.

I'd like to continue the new format for the Sake Challenge this month - a more condensed version, as some folks have expressed that the original format is pretty long. So I propose mentioning some of the pairings - not all - without a sake by sake blow by blow, and a summary. Please by all means comment on this effort or say something about the old format if you so desire.

This month's Sake Challenge finds comfort in the theory that sake goes great with anything from the ocean. Indeed! In this spirit I brought Mr. Kazu Yamazaki - a true pioneer in the sake industry - to The Franciscan down in Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Let's just say they do seafood! I decided to bring two different style sakes:
  1. Shutendouji "Mitaiken" - Kyoto Prefecture
    More info »
  2. Aramasa "Rokugo" - Akita Prefecture
    More info »
We attacked four separate dishes and each brew did very well on several levels.

Menu for the evening:
  1. Kumamoto Oysters
  2. Octopus Condito - octopus, red onion, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper
  3. Crab Cocktail - crab with ketchup, horseradish, oil and vinegar
  4. Mussels - baked with hot butter, garlic, sea salt, white wine

Well of course the sakes - both - did great with the oysters! We all know that sake and oysters rock. The Shutendouji received a WW and WWC from Kazu because it highlighted the sweetness of the oyster and the sake while washing away the salty brine. The Aramasa scored two WW's as it blended with the flavor of the oyster and also washed the brine.

The Octopus Condito gave some problems for a few reasons for Kazu who scored both sake DNW. I however found that the Aramasa - W - was a good wash for the olive oil revealing a better octopus flavor and balanced the onions. The Shutendouji - WW - was a good cover for all of the flavors and balanced the dish. It also went really well with the mozzarella cheese - WWC.

The crab cocktail also brought out some great elements in the sakes. We both gave the Aramasa WW's as it gave extra sweet flavor to the dish and was no problem with the tomatoes according to Kazu. I thought it pulled all the flavors together like a glorious glue. Kazu gave the Shutendouji a WW for settling the flavor and making the pairing milder. I gave the Kyoto brew a W because it lost out to the horseradish.

Ahhhhh! Back to WWC pairing status! We both gave the Aramasa WWC with the baked mussels - a simply perfect pairing that saw the brew - in my exact words - "OMG! Makes the mussel flavor pop with a salty and ocean-like dance with the balanced sake." Kazu said it cuts the savoryness but makes a better whole taste. I gave the Shutendouji a WW as it made a nice smooth creamy play with the mussel meat creating a round feeling. Kazu dealt it a W for making the mussel flavor elegant.


Come on man! Sake and the ocean go together like Lohans and trouble. Why settle for a crispy white wine when you can have layers and layers of flavors in a nice starch beverage that compliments seafood so well. Grape juice with ocean really? I would challenge ANYBODY to a wine v. Sake Challenge for seafood. Both sakes did very well - naturally - and it was a real treat watching them tackle the not-so-clean flavors that we tasted.

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