Friday, July 11, 2008

For the Sake of Saké

Last night Andy and I attended a dinner that showcased an array of sakés produced by SakéOne, the United States’ only producer of that quintessential Japanese beverage. Cooked up by Chef Jet Tila, groovy Thai chef and personality extraordinaire, the meal featured five flavorful courses: red miso; oshi sushi; tofu and bonito salad; marinated cod over soba noodles; and teriyaki chicken from Jet’s stash of family recipes.

Each course was accompanied by a different saké, and e
verything was delectable. Each saké enhanced the fine food. Each dish enhanced the fine saké.
Marinated black cod with edamame, served over a bed of soba: Most of my past exposure to cod has been either baccalà or fillets battered and fried and served with chips. But a two-day bath in saké produces a buttery, delicate cod that will make you forget all about frying. The Momokawa Ruby we drank with it brought out the sweetness in the dish. And the dish returned the favor.

But the really cool thing about the experience is that while we sampled five sakés, it was akin to trying ten, for each saké had two flavors—one before we began eating each course, and another while we were eating. The flavors in each dish drew out flavors inherent in its appointed saké--like magic!

Our sakés were served chilled and in wine glasses, from which we could inhale their varied and wonderful fragrances. No tiny cups in sight. It was a great introduction to what, for us, is only slightly familiar territory.

A lot of attitudes and ideas about saké spring not from actually tasting it but from hearing other people’s stories, whether they're original or secondhand. How do you categorize it? Is it a beer or a wine? I
t’s brewed, like beer, but its alcohol content is more on a par with that of wine. And how do you serve it? Hot or cold? (It turns out that while heating saké can help take the edge off a chilly day, it's essentially an old trick used to make a poor saké a little more palatable.)

In the end, it really doesn’t matter. Saké is its own animal with its own tales and traditions. Legend has it that the beverage was originally made by employing virgins to chew the grains of rice, the idea being that an enzyme in their saliva helped kick off the fermentation process. Whether or not there’s any truth to it, it’s a great story. And only extraordinary foods and beverages—and people!—tend to come with such folklore attached.

*Many thanks to Chef Evan Kleiman and Angeli Caffé for hosting a great evening.

Speaking of extraordinary people, I enjoyed this tasty, leisurely meal--and lots of great chat--with Barbara Hansen, of and former Los Angeles Times food writer, and Chef Jet Tila. Jet credits Barbara with propelling him into the professional food world.


Cindy Mc said...

This isn't particularly related, but seeing the edamame in the photo made me think of this. I've recently seen a trend around here of preparing "edamame hummus" and then I saw a chef make it on the Today show too. Have you tried it and do you have a good recipe? What I've had here has been somewhat less than yummy--the flavor isn't bad (I like edamame) but it's very dry so it obviously needs something else (or more of something). For now, I see no reason to abandon the chickpea, but I'd like to try some edamame hummus that I could make myself from a good recipe. It did seem as if it had potential.

Hungry Passport said...

As you're blending/processing, try adding some of the water in which you cooked the edamame, just a tiny bit at a time, so the purée isn't too liquidy. Or you might use a bit of liquid that complements the other ingredients in the recipe, say perhaps a splash of chicken or vegetable stock. You might use a tiny bit of canola oil or rice oil, too, but not so much that the hummus becomes oily. A combo of stock and oil would probably do the trick just fine. And save some for me, please!

Cindy Mc said...

Thanks. I haven't actually made it myself; I've just had it at parties. I like the idea in concept, but what I've had that was made by other people wasn't that good. I'll try to find a recipe myself and try it out.