Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Captain Creole takes a night off

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2008 at 7:06 PM

click to enlarge Gekkeikan Black & Gold Sake

After ten days of providing interaction, entertainment and culinary partnership for our dearest friends from London, Nick and I felt like we had wound up on the wrong end of a turkey injector.  So as we watched the United Taxi's sole tail light flicker up Coliseum Street carrying our friends and their new-found appreciation for the cuisine of New Orleans to the airport and across The Pond, we knew what we had to do.  Sushi.  Lots of it.


I lived  in New York for six and a half years and  for that entire time worked across the street from one of the best sushi restaurants in Manhattan.  The chefs and staff were Japanese, as were 95% of their clientele.  It was there, at the end of 9pm work days, seated alone at the sushi bar, that I learned about "Omakase" which I believe is Japanese for "Feed me bizarre fish parts I would never order and make me love them."  I also learned there that sake can be served either hot, room temperature or cold and that I preferred cold.   Sushi Seki (1st ave & 62nd st) does not have a great atmosphere and is not the trendiest of restaurants, but it is real sushi.  And it is truly lovely.   So, with that under my hat, I left for London where I lived for three years in a city where there were not only great sushi restaurants, but Feng Sushi (mult. locations) could deliver premium sushi and sake to your door almost anywhere in the city, quickly and in beautiful wrappings.  Sushi is tricky one because I am spoiled rotten.

We have tried sushi locally but we have not had the best experiences.  Most notably was the time Nick  wore flip-flops to a restaurant and because the floor under our table had not been cleaned properly before we were seated, he wound up with a renegade tempura shrimp between his big and second toes.  The next big sushi let down was a restaurant highly recommended that turned out to be a sloppy "fusion" of creole cuisine and sushi.  No thank you.

So it was with great anticipation that we saddled up to the bar at Sake Cafe on Magazine Street for take home sushi to try to push the past 10 days of creole cuisine out of our systems, and our minds.   The gods took kindly to us - the sushi was fantastic and, in our first show of restraint in 10 days, we only had dinner there twice in three days.

click to enlarge Ozeki Hana Awaka (Sparkling Flower) Sake

So, what to have with sushi?  What else but sake.  Sake is the English term for a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice.  It is generally called a Japanese rice wine but that term is not technically correct for reasons too boring to go into here.  Sake is made by polishing (removing the outer layers) and steam cooking rice, mixing it with yeast and koji, a mold cultivated by the brewermaster.  The mixture ferments and additional rice, koji and water is added in batches over four days (this process is called shikomi) then allowed to ferment for 18-35 days.  The quality of the rice, the koji and temperature variations will be different for different shikomi and all lead to different flavour characteristics of particular sakes. Once the mixture has fermented, it is usually pressed to separate the liquid from the mash. The alcohol content ofsake is 10-20% (wine to port)

So to celebrate our independence from anything breaded, fried or cooked with the trinity, we tried 3 different sakes that evening.  One was sparkling, one was kitchy and one was elegant and expensive.  Here's what we thought:

Gekkeikan Black & Gold Sake:  Medium priced of the three, Black & Gold costs about $18 retail and about $30 in restaurants.  I only know of Sake Cafe carrying it.  Black & Gold is, as with most sakes, super ripe and floral.  I found the finish to be so crystal clear, it almost faded away and became reminiscent of spring water.

Ozeki Hana Awake Sake, besides having a really fun name to pronounce, is fruity and sparkling and yummy.  Sort of like Zima without that icky unnatural feeling.  Its name means Sparkling Flower and is named so because it is a sparkling sake.  It is low in alcohol for a sake 6.7% and is a really fun way to kick off a sushi dinner.  I think it would be a bit sweet to have thru a full meal, but I would definitely split a small bottle among friends to kick off a  group dinner.  It was the least expensive of the three, and can be found for about $15.  It is on the wine list at Sake Cafe.

click to enlarge Ginga Shizuku Sake Divine Droplets
The kicker of the group was the Ginga Shizuku Saki "Divine Droplets."  This came from a recommendation for a very "special" sake from Martin's on Magazine.  It was...beautiful.  It had only the slightest hint of pale yellow color and a very complex aroma of cotton candy, cucumbers and fresh white flowers.  The taste has similar aspects to the Black & Gold but it was fuller, richer and had a much longer finish.  Downside?  It's around $60.  If you are up for it, you can find it at Martin's.

Another recommendation if you are on the fence about trying cold sake is Rihaku  Dreamy Clouds which is a popular unfiltered sake that is going to be much softer and a bit sweeter than the two still sakes we had.  It is fairly easy to find and if your local wine shop does not have it, they should be able to order it without too much difficulty.




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