On Sunday October 11th, Kumamoto US hosted a group of CEOs and featured a collaborative sake pairing dinner at Restaurant 2117 in Sawtelle Japantown, West Los Angeles.
Kumamoto US is one of the few top sake importers in the US, with their book specializing in high quality boutique sake. With many consumers barely familiar with Nigori style sake, Kuramoto US has created a unique sake education group called The Sakeman - a fun initiative to educate anyone willing to learn. Please allow me introduce to you who they are: imagine Power Rangers crossed with Judo Athletes, with the power of sake knowledge. The Sakeman are black belts and wear Lucha Libre inspired face masks and have one mission: to spread the joy of sake to the untapped American market.
The Sakeman started the evening with traditional Kanpai (a toast) with the featured guest speakers - sake brewers from Japan. Then they introduced each brewery’s family history and sake making tradition. This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity; sake makers and CEOs of the top breweries in Japan including Yamagata Honten, Chiyomusubi, Yamamoto Honke, and Tenzan flew in from Japan to showcase their signature portfolios.The Sakeman translated guest speeches with simplified sake terms to create an environment more approachable for entry-level sake drinkers.
This special event was hosted at Restaurant 2117, a hole-in-the-wall bistro loved by regulars of the Sawtelle neighborhood for 20 years. Chef Hideyo Mitsuno, owner and wine connoisseur, focuses his menu on using organic ingredients in an elegant European style with just a touch of Japanese essence. With over 20 years of experience in the kitchen and wine drinking, Chef's passion and art in creating a 'precision pairing' menu resulted in a magnificent 4-course dinner pairing, with each course's sake selections explained in detail by the brewers and The Sakeman.
----- First course was Salmon Sashimi Chef’s Style which was paired with Yamagata Honten’s Tsuru Junmai Ginjo and (Yamagata Honten?) Shoin Junmai Ginjo. Another unique part of this event is that each course was paired with two sakes. The sashimi by itself paired well with dry and clean finish Tsuru, which was reminiscent of Alsatian Pinot Gris. However when you dip the sashimi in chef’s green sauce made with Dill oil & wasabi, the fuller and rounder Shoin adds a hint of sweetness, making all the flavors come together as one, creating a whole new pairing experience.
Second Course was Wild Mexican Shrimp Tempura Chinese Style. This was a very complex dish with both a sweet and spicy touch. The pairing sakes were Chiyomusubi Tokubetu Junmai and (Chiyomusubi?) Gouriki Nama. The Tottori Prefecture where Chiyomusubi is located is known for seafood, especially crab. Therefore sakes from the region are made in a style that pair well with shelled fish. Both sakes paired perfectly with the dish, where Tokubetsu Junmai provided a contrasting pairing while Gouriki Nama married well with the shrimp's texture, making it melt on the palate.
Third Course was Sea Urchin with Sawtellini with Pan Sautéed Branzino. Sawtellini is chef’s original “pasta” with an Asian noodle inspiration. Chef used top grade Uni in this pasta and the sauce was just amazing. The pairing sakes were Yamamoto Honke Shinsei Junmai Ginjo and Yamamoto Honke Matsuno Midori Junmai Ginjo. These both pair very well because of its subtle beauty and finesse, followed by the long lasting finish, offering a touch of another layer of delicate flavor alongside the creaminess of the sauce and the perfectly browned Branzino. Yamamoto Honke's sakes are currently on the list of Michelin 3 star restaurants in Japan.
Fourth Course was Roasted Wagyu Top Sirloin with Pomegranate Chipotle Sauce & Mushrooms. The pairing sakes were Tenzan Shichida Green Junmai and Tenzan Shichida Red Junmai. This dish had a little heat from the chipotle, but with the pomegranate's soft sweetness. Shichida sakes tend to have higher alcohol and with a comforting edge. Some wine sommeliers will reference this sake edge to ‘tannin’ of wine. For this reason, they pair really well with high quality meats by combining with amino acids and rounding up the flavor. In addition, another aspect to note, Shichida style has a complex steamed-rice aroma which just melts together with autumn mushroom.