Friday, September 25, 2009

Sake Tastings: Drink:Eat:Play's Sake social at Gonpachi 9/26

$30 for unlimited samplings of 75 sakes--that's Drink:Eat:Play's program for Saturday night at Gonpachi. A little overkill perhaps--but certainly the way to learn what sake to try later. I'm a fan of Gonpachi--the restaurant was built at great expense, with many of the building materials imported from Japan as were the craftsmen who built it. A lovely chisen kaiyu shiki (loosely translated "water scrolling")--a Japanese garden complete with koi pond and maple trees--is at the entrance. There are many other authentic details from the Japanese cedar beams to the Shoji screens to the dramatic sumiyaki bar. House made soba noodles and the extensive sake list--including a house sake--are worth a look. Go soon as the restaurant is reportedly on the market.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sake Tastings: Whole Foods' showcases Japanese sake

Because Whole Foods Beverly Hills does not have a liquor license, the popular store schedules their wine tastings down the street on the pleasant patio of the Crescent Hotel. This week the store sponsored a sunset hour sake tasting. Five sakes were poured and Melissa of the Japanese food and beverage distributor Mutual Trading Co., led a lively session on the basics of sake. I was most impressed with the Kikusui organic junmai ginjo (18.99 @ Whole Foods; Locali on Franklin Ave. also has it). Kikusui means chrysanthemum mist, which doesn't tell you much about its flavor, but is certainly poetic. From Niigata, known as the rice capital of Japan, I found it very light with a slight aroma of bananas. Melissa suggested drinking it early in a meal as it pairs well with appetizers. USDA certified, it is the first organic sake available for import (although many sakes do not have preservatives, this sake is made from pesticide free rice). The Shirakabegura (white wall) Tokubetsu junami can be drunk hot or cold and is well-balanced and can pair with heavier dishes. This sake comes from Takara, which also has a brewery in Berkeley. Our final sake was a nigori or coarsely filtered SCB creme de sake domestically brewed from Takara. Definitely on the sweet side, my fellow tasters thought it should be a desert sake and its ricey-ness conjured up a funny "rice-a-roni" comment. Hey, it was sake number five--people get a bit giddy.
There's a grand sake tasting after the Sushi Masters professional sushi competition this Sunday in Little Tokyo at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre. Sponsors include the California Rice Commission. California short grain rice is main ingredient in all U.S.-brewed sake!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Global Sake Bomb from Wine Enthusiast Magazine

A nice round-up of where Japanese sake is at outside Japan from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. I found a new spot to check out the next time I'm in San Francisco: Ozumo, located in the Harbor Court Hotel. A sake lounge and restaurant, there are more than 30 sakes available by the glass--sweet. Look for a Santa Monica branch to open in 2010 -- L.A.'s first real sake lounge.
The upshot of the article is that sake is gaining popularity and pairs well with food since it's not as bold in flavor as some wines and "invites the flavors of food to linger." Definitely. Yesterday, I had lunch at Pollo a la Brasa (wood fired Peruvian chicken) and thought a draft sake (like Kikusui Funaguchi one-cup sake I just bought at Whole Foods--pictured above) would have worked very well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Japan: Sake museum and craft beer at Sekinoichi

Until I get to Japan, I visit Japanese sake breweries virtually. I really enjoyed this post from Beer in Japan, a blog that covers the artisan and craft brew scene in Japan. In this lengthy post, Hopjuice writes about his visit to Sekinoichi Brewery in the Iwate prefecture that produces both beer and sake. (Above is a picture from the sake museum). The Passion Ale (made with passion fruit) sounds very interesting--curious what food (a fruit salad? grilled shrimp? it might work with. When I get to Tokyo, I'm going to consult Beer in Japan's Tokyo Beer map!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Los Angeles sake tastings @ Itacho and Silver Lake Wine

A good weekend for sake tastings in L.A. On Saturday (9/12), there's an afternoon tasting at Itacho on Beverly Blvd. I haven't been to the restaurant lately (it's under new management and now serves sushi) but the Itacho of old was my favorite restaurant when it was on Highland Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd. in a very grungy mini-mall. I first tasted "Golden Dream" cold sake there with gold flakes in a box (masu). Now the Beverly Blvd. restaurant has six hot sakes and 13 cold sakes by the glass on its menu. Saturday's tasting will feature 35 different sakes from several distributors and is designed as an introduction to sake. Appetizers will also be passed.
Order tickets through (I'm a member and previously attended a Learn About Wine sake tasting through the site); I first heard about the tasting from Drink:Eat: Play Los Angeles--that group is organizing a 70-sake tasting September 26 at Gonpachi.
Sunday is a five sake tasting paired with dishes from catering company Heirloom LA at Silver Lake Wine. Two are from Kasumi Tsuru, one is an extra dry Kimoto, the other a namazake, which is unpasteurized draft sake--super fresh, usually very light and drinkable and must always be kept cold. From Niigata, there will be a Ichishima Honojozo (70% or less of the rice grain remains). Ichishima Brewery has been around since the 1700s so expect a very well balanced sake.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tasting aromatic Japanese sake at the Joy of Sake's Aftertaste

Katana's scenic outdoor patio was the sunset hour setting for Joy of Sake's Aftertaste--I tasted 35 out of the 37 sakes presented (I did not drive home). After the blind tasting, conducted in the same manner as an official sake judging--a few drops of each sake and then rating them from outstanding (1) to noticeably flawed (5)--there was some free range tasting, which made the crowd very friendly. Honolulu-based, the Joy of Sake organization is a non-profit that hosts several tastings a year on both coasts and in Honolulu. This tasting centered on aromatic sakes--a style developed in the last 25 years. Among those I found well balanced and pleasingly aromatic were two available only in Japan: the Shindo Shuzoten "Gasanryu Gokugetsu" Daiginjo from Yamagata and from Niigata (a style I seem to always like) a junmai from Yoshikawa Tojinosato "Tenkeiraku." The group will be doing another tasting in San Francisco on September 10th featuring 140 sakes and appetizers. Good news for sake distributors, lots of younger drinkers were at the Katana event including the lead singer of Powedertrain, a band out of San Jose.