Last week, I had the great fortune of attending a Sake Dinner as a guest of Kenichi and courtesy of Jennie Chen. I'd visited Kenichi before on maybe 2-3 other occasions and had always had a nice time, but it had been quite a while, and I was very excited to be back and to check out the pairings they had waiting for us.
Kenichi's main dining area (note that the sake dinners are served in their private dining area, not in the main dining room).
As the guests arrived, we were offered our choice of two different cocktails made with sake - one was a canteloupe martini and the other was a mojito of some kind...raspberry? Obviously, I got the martini, and it was wonderful - very light and full of fresh canteloupe flavor. A nice way to kick off the evening.
The elements of each course were introduced first by Kenichi's sake director, Brandi, then by Kenichi's Chef Mark Stroubal, which meant that the meal was not only enjoyable, but educational. Did you know that Kenichi carries a whopping 75 different sake labels? Their collection is the third largest of the restaurants in the U.S.
Chef Mark taking us on a taste tour.
Our amuse bouche was textured beets served with a spring onion dashi. These were served with a carrot-infused Ty•Ku Black Ginjo (which you can see hiding behind the amuse plate). I would not have thought to infuse sake with carrot, but it definitely worked - the sweetness and earthiness of the carrot provided a nice contrast to the salty, crispy beets on the left of the plate and the surprising smokiness of the dashi.
The first course was Chef Mark Strouhal's famous scallop brulée with smoked fuji apples and mizuna. No sooner had I put this tender morsel in my mouth than I began to furtively seek out another that I might steal from an unsuspecting diner. Alas, it appeared that everyone else had already consumed theirs and was doing the same.
This dish was paired with another Ty•Ku offering, their White Daiginjo. As you can see below, the sake pours were very generous. I had six of these, plus the carrot-infused sake with the amuse, plus the canteloupe sake cocktail. Don't you be calling me a lightweight.
For our second course, Chef Mark put together a lovely udon soup with radish, uzura (quail egg), and black cod cakes. This whole dish was wonderful, but the uzura really blew me away - it just sort of simultaneously melted and exploded with wonderful flavor the moment it was placed in your mouth.
I won't inundate you with repetitive photos of the sake since they all look more or less the same, with the only differences being that some were clear, some were cloudy (Kenichi's sake director, Brandi, explained that the term "cloudy" is a preferable to "unfiltered" since all sake is filtered). I will tell you each of the pairings, though, as I was very impressed with all of them. I have typically not been as fond of clear sakes, as many of them taste rather harsh to me, but I found every single one of the sake pairings at this dinner to be smooth and easy to drink. This particular course was paired with a Watari Bune 55 Junmai Ginjo.
For the halfway point (I know! Only halfway?!?), we indulged in a tai sashimi served with white soy and lemon vinaigrette, negi (Japanese green onion), grapes, crispy rice, and balsamic creme. This was paired with a Shichi Hon Yari ("Seven Spearmen") Junmai.
The fourth course - oh! the fourth course! - gave me shivers. Easily one of the most delicious things I've eaten so far this year (can you believe we're already almost 1/4 into the year?). Steamed sea bass with coconut and candied ginger, served with Minogawa Awa Yuki Nigori Junmai. I just love sea bass anyway, and this was perfectly prepared to bring out the rich, buttery texture of the fish, with the microgreens, coconut and candied ginger providing a nice point of interest, both texturally and flavor-wise. MmmmMMMMMMMM. More, plz.
Pork belly is hugely popular right now, and for good reason - it is supremely decadent and kind of hard to mess up. Our fifth course showcased a lovely piece of pork belly with a star anise demi-glace on a bed of pickled cherry congee. The sake pairing was a Tentaka Kuni ("Hawk in the Heavens") Junmai.
Get in mah belly, belly.
I felt pretty good about myself to be crossing this finish line (and I felt pretty good generally after all that sake and delicious food). For dessert, we had sweet kabocha dumplings with blood orange, strawberries, and creme fraiche gelato, served with Kenichi's own label sake - Tanuki's Magic Daiginjo.
I had an absolutely wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, the sake pairings, and the fine company. Many, many thanks to Kenichi for having me and to Jennie for the invitation!
If you're interested in experiencing one of Kenichi's Pairing Dinners for yourself, call the restaurant for details about their next one or follow them on Twitter. Also, I highly recommend that you keep an eye on John Knox's Flickr feed; he is a far better photographer than I and was enthusiastically shooting photos throughout our meal.