Sake Spots – Places That “Get” Sake and Don’t Have SAS!
Yes, I was totally envious. Sitting there peacefully but totally green with envy! In fact it's a new type of envy – you may never have heard of it! It’s “Fridge Envy.” No not the fridge itself! Ha! But rather what the fridge held within. Sitting there in Osaka at an incredible sake izakaya called Sakafune basking in the glow of bevy of refrigerators a thought dawned on me – this place gets it! I love being in places where they “get” sake. And no, getting sake does not mean having 7,000 sakes on the menu! “Getting” sake means that the people there have sake in their hearts and they communicate this in the mellowest and inviting way possible.
“Getting” sake does not mean overwhelming a customer with the said fact that you are sake awesome. Okay what? What the heck is sake awesome? Sake awesome is that syndrome when you feel the huge desire to slightly humiliate a customer with the fact that you know so much about sake and they don’t! Come on! You’ve seen it. You’ve seen that waitperson or sake somm come out and try to baffle you with their sake brilliance as if you could never EVER know what they were talking about. The Sake Awesome Syndrome or SAS occurs frequently in an industry that is as young as it is in the US. These are fertile grounds for SAS, I should know, as I am a recovering SAS survivor.
Okay – so back to folks who get sake and try to disarm you into a perfect and comfortable feeling of fascination and intrigue. This is Sakafune in a nutshell. Of course I was expecting a masu or a shaped O’choko served in a masu, but when they brought out my starter sake for their 8-dish pairing menu I was staring at a huge bowled wine glass. Cool! And it only got better from there.
One advantage of being a restaurant in Japan is that you can get sakes directly from breweries if you want to. It pained me to see how fresh their inventory was. Well pained me in a good and envious way! Despite offering many of the sakes that were available at Sakafune, we get ours later and rarely do we pull the nama selection like they do. Lots and lots of fresh sake! But, we in the west are getting better, and that is a good thing!
Herewith is a quick breakout of my dinner and sake nirvana experience void of SAS for those who are interested:
- 1. Kikuyoi Daiginjo from Shizuoka paired with a cold Asari fish broth that was totally the bomb! Lot’s of richness to the sake and tons of umami in the soup.
- 2. Iwaki Kotobuki from Yamagata paired with a sashimi plate. Rich, layered and very expressive sake with killer fresh fish. The sake is called “The Fisherman’s Toast", and for good reason!
- 3. Asahi Giku from Fukuoka paired with a crushed shrimp balls in a light broth. A ricey brew that was served nuru-kan and drank thin and light. Very light flavored dish with a light flavored sake.
- 4. Kikuhime from Ishikawa paired with firefly squid cooked at the table. OMG pairing of the night! Rich Kikuhime sake had a ton of riceyness with a hint of sour tones and danced so well with the ika. My favorite pairing by far!
- 5. Ishizuchi from Ehime paired with lightly seared chicken in a vinegar sauce with veggies. Nice sake! Has a higher acidity at 1.6 and I think this went well with the acidity.
- 6. Akishika from Osaka paired with a meatloaf like beef dish in a heavy sauce. This brew was aged a bit and had a rich body and lots of attitude to stand up to the sauce. Rich and roasty pairing.
- 7. Rumiko from Ehime paired with an at-table cooked pork shabu shabu. An excellent pairing with a really nice Junmai Muroka made by a female toji with a 1.8 acidity and served nuru-kan.
- 8. Kaishun from Shimane paired with a kishu ice cream. Wow! This brew is from a 100 year-old recipe and had an amino san do of 10.2! The highest I have ever tasted! What a thick and wonderful sake that drinks more like a soy sauce than a kijishu. Koshu with super deep rich sweetness and an SMV of -100! Good stuff!
For me the dinner was fantastic, but it also reminded me that we are in a great position with True Cup to do the exact same thing. We are very well situated to get great sake to customers in a manner void of SAS. Sake is about experience and our experience with selling sake for over a decade puts us in a unique situation to test our experience and marry it to our passion. True Cup will rock. I promise!