Sake it to me! Or: Rice Wine Is Nice Wine 01/10/12
This past weekend I took advantage of a rare opportunity, of the sort which seems only to present itself to me one night out of every month: a chance to venture out into the world beyond my meager, wine-filled apartment, so that I might interact with others, and experience things that would be unexperiencable under normal circumstances. Of course, by experience, I mean eat and drink.
One of the most logical places for me to go on my rare excursions worldward is Philadelphia, since it’s geographically near enough for me to visit without spending a ton of money (which my wine budget naturally won’t allow, being itself limited to roughly two tons of money per quarter). And so it was to Philly that I fared, for feasting and fellowship, but mostly feasting.
My destination? Yakitori Boy, a Japanese restaurant, bar and maybe some other stuff which my friend Don assured me probably had a sake list. Oh, let me back up a bit: I wanted to drink sake. It is 2012, after all, and I think it goes without saying (so please forgive me for saying it) that I’ve resolved not only to drink more this year, but to drink more adventurously. And with only one review of sake thus far under my belt, I knew exactly where I needed to focus my attention.
At once my eyes were drawn to the sake list, which not only existed, but was actually pretty impressive (at least from my admittedly deprived perspective). Apart from a whole litany of bottles from producers I’d never heard of, it even featured sake from the hilariously few I have, including the Wakatake Onikoroshi I wrote about mere months ago.
I decided to go with the Sake Flight, a sampler of three different sakes which at $12 seemed reasonable enough, considering restaurant markup and all that. And in short order it arrived: a taste apiece of the Koshino Tousetsuka, the Niwa no Uguisu, and the Renaissance Kanazawa. And in keeping with my quest to try new things, I also opted for the uni, or sea urchin, a food which I had previously avoided because the things are just so darn adorable.
Here’s the thing, though: given my inexperience with sake, and the regrettably small amounts I consumed, I don’t feel comfortable assigning these numerical ratings. So if you really can’t go on until you know how many thumbs a particular sake would earn, well…please remember that you’re always free to buy me a bottle.
The Koshino Tousetsuka retails for around $25 per bottle (though more at the restaurant). It was the most familiar sake of the bunch to me in terms of flavor profile, reminding me a little of the Momokawa Ruby in that the most prominent note was cantaloupe, with a touch of creamy vanilla. There was a little heat on the finish, but all in all I enjoyed this sake quite a bit, even if it didn’t impart any major revelations.
The Niwa no Uguisu also sells for about $25. I’ll say right off the bat that this was my favorite of the bunch, in that it was the most novel: the nose came across as steely and clean, with mineral aromas enveloping a faint hint of honeydew. Equally clean on the palate, this was the dryest of the three, with a somewhat metallic glint on the finish, along with what may or may not have been fennel. This was also the best pairing for sea urchin, which tasted kind of like gefilte fish crossed with oysters, if that means anything (you’d have to be Jewish enough to know what gefilte fish is, but not so Jewish that you avoid shellfish). I’ll be looking for this sake elsewhere, though sadly I’m at a total loss as to whether I tasted the Toku or Daruma version of Niwa no Uguisu, which are similarly priced. One suggestion for Yakitori Boy? Put your drink menu online.
Last but not least (the first one was least), the Renaissance Kanazawa, also retailing for around $25, but this time for a 500ml bottle, only two-thirds the size of a standard wine bottle. On the nose this reminded me somewhat of the Wakatake Onikoroshi, with some melon notes, albeit verging more to the musky, tropical side, imparting a somewhat savory aroma that tends to remind me, but few others, of cheese. On the palate, my impression of this was “grainy,” though not in terms of texture; I perceived a hint of rye bread and/or caraway seed. I’d be very curious to see how this one evolves over a full (well, two-thirds) bottle.
What impressed me most about Yakitori Boy’s Sake Flight was the reason I’d ordered it in the first place: diversity. The three sakes I tried were quite different, demonstrating a surprising range of styles while retaining consistent (yet distinctive) melon notes acoss the board. I apologize for the brevity of my notes, but don’t worry – there’s plenty more sake in my future.