John "the Sake Guy" Gauntner hosted a special sake pairing dinner last night at Makoto. The five-course meal paired sake handpicked by Gauntner with dishes by chef Makoto Okuwa. Reps from the breweries of the featured sake were on site and roaming the dining room to pour and educate attendees about their brewed beverage.
Short Order was invited to attend this stop on their cross-country sake tour. Check out pictures of the delights after the jump.
Gauntner and sake breweries are traveling across the country and making stops in various markets. Among them are San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, and Miami. The breweries traveling with Gauntner change from city to city, but one thing they all have in common is that they have been selected by Gauntner, which makes them among the best in the world. It's the first time Makoto has pulled together four such prestigious breweries, as well as Gauntner (who's in Miami for the fifth time), for a dinner of this kind.
Gauntner never had plans of a career in sake or becoming the world's only non-Japanese certified master of the brewed beverage. "Life has a funny way of working out, though," he laughs. "My plan was to be in Japan for six months. It's been 25 years."
Completely engrained in the Japanese culture, Gauntner speaks fluent Japanese with his Japanese wife and two kids. He looks less from his native Ohio and more from Japan. "It's all the sake," he says. And, boy, does he drink a lot of sake. It is his job, after all. He sat with us and anyone else who attended the sake dinner, drinking and guiding us through our sake-pairing experience.
Takatenjin, or "soul of the sensai," is a Daiginjo from Shizouka, which is an hour and a half from Tokyo. The best-brewed tea in Japan comes from Shizouka. The brewery itself has been around for 130 years, forged into what it is today by one of the most famous master brewers in Japan, who passed about two years ago. Fortunately, his understudy has never missed a beat and continues to produce a clean, dry, and rich brew, considered one of Japan's most highly regarded sakes.
Because of the melon-like, fruity taste of the Takatenjin, it pairs excellently with oysters. Makoto's rendition of fresh Japanese oysters is kept chilled with ice infused with Japanese cucumber, serrano pepper, and cilantro, and finished with oyster sauce.
For the second course, we had a Junmai Ginjo called Kanbara. This sake is from the northern region of Japan, in the city of Niigata, which has the most renowned reputation for sake. The sake itself qualifies for Daiginjo in terms of category, but its brewer, Dr. Sunichi and Ms. Yoshiko, who both come from brewing families, chose not to give it top grade but rather the next level down. Why? People in Japan are humble. Its taste can be classified as rich and savory with a hint of lingering sweetness.
It paired with hamachi pastrami air bread. Pumpernickel cracker is puffed and injected with purple Dijon, so that when you bite into it, it literally bursts with flavor. Cured hamachi with red chili and microchives on the top and sour cream on the bottom made for a combination that was gone way too quickly.
Rikahu, dubbed "wandering poet," is named after a Chinese poet who used to sing a lot. Its origin is from Shimane and is a Junmai Gingo. It's a well-rounded sake packed with a clean, crisp acidity, but it's more herbal and floral than it is fruity.
Duck is gamey, so the "wandering poet" ties in well with the herbal. The acidity cuts the fattiness from the duck, which is cooked to a perfect medium-rare and served alongside udon noodles and a pork, beef, and chicken broth.
Our server advised us to sink the noodles into the broth and eat it like a soup. It was our favorite part of the meal. The broth was delicate yet spicy without being overbearing.
Yuho is a Junmai and is just making its way to the United States. Located in Ishikawa, the town is known for UFO sightings. The legend states that when you drink a lot of sake, you become very happy and see flying saucers, the brewery rep said. It's acidic in flavor, and Yuho pairs well with pork and beef more than fish. It's also great with cheese.
Robata-grilled Kobe was a vibrant pink and was brought to life using sweet onions and daikon radish.
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For dessert, we had a gorgeous edible garden. It was a green tea sponge cake with house-made ice cream made using "Dreamy Clouds" Nigori sake (also served alongside the dessert) and strawberry yuzu.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha