Friday, October 31, 2008

10/30/08: Off to Japan

5:00 AM is usually an ungodly hour, but today was the dawn of a new adventure: a two week trip back to Japan.

The purpose of my trip is clear in one sense - visit breweries and frieds - but also unclear in many ways, as I would be visiting uncharted territories to learn more about my culture. The prospect of meeting my friends in their breweries while anticipation of discovering the unknown had me awake half an our earlier than my alarm.

Unlike the last two visits, my flight will be to Narita. The basic outline of the trip is to spend 6 days in Tohoku (northern Japan) for the first time, back to Tokyo for one night, then 3 days in Kansai (west/central Japan), one night in Yamanashi prefecture, and couple of nights in Tokyo.

The following entries covering two week period will detail my journeys in Japan.

My reflection while riding Narita Express to Tokyo.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

10/25/08: Kampai! with Tohoku Girls

In a few days, I am off to Japan for two weeks. A significant portion of my trip will be based in the northern Tohoku area, and my journey will cover Akita, Iwate, and Yamagata.

I wanted to empty my fridge before my trip, so I invited 3 girls from Tohoku. Between 4 of us, we "tasted" 5 sakés, including some rare ones. Here's what transpired:

The first selection was the Gold Medal-winning Hakuro Suishu (Take No Tsuyu) Daiginjo Nama, a bottle given to me by Aisawa-san during MTC Restaurant Show. Made from local Dewa San San rice, Hakuro Suishu exhibited balanced fruitiness, and was very well received by the girls.

It paired very well with the garlic oil marinated cucumbers (pictured) as well as hiyayakko (cold tofu served with minced ginger, bonito flakes, and dashi-based soy sauce.)

Next, we opened a bottle brought by one of the girls (Y-san), who recently went to the tour of Gekkeikan in Kyoto. The bottle seems to be limited release at the brewery, and saké showed more hints of nuttiness on the flavor. It was paired with eggplant braised in miso (pictured) and moyashi (soy sprout) and shiitaké butter sautee.

Here are the Tohoku Girls with Gekkeikan Daiginjo. From left to right, R-san, M-san, Y-san.

Next on the deck was Kiku Masamuné Kimoto, a bottle I received for placing fourth in the October company golf outing. (I won in September, but it didn't come with a bottle of saké...). This happens to be a brewery that Y-san also visited, as Nada is not too far from Kyoto. This bottle, following the first two, was very grainy and deep following the first two choices. We paired this with fried dumpling prepared by R-san.

Thelast two sakés have been sitting in my fridge for one year. The first to be opened was Ama No To Junkara, a very dry style junmai. R-san was very fond of this bottle, as it tasted like what a traditional saké should taste like. We matched this with oden (Japanese stew) that R-san brought.

Lastly, I opened up the Sakura Masamuné Kinmaré that I received from visiting the brewery last year. Unlike my experience at the brewery or even earlier in the year, this version of Kinmaré tasted milder, but with just as much depth. Another selection that was very well received by the attenddees. We served the saké along side boiled dumplings, but since the saké was so good, it outlasted them.

This was the perfect way to enjoy the sakés I saved for "those special occasions," as I knew every single drop was savored.

Next entry will be from the land of the Risig Sun.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

10/2/08: Sakagura and Matsugen

My friends invited me to go to the new and highly acclaimed soba restaurant Matsugen for dinner. Before heading over, I stopped by Sakagura as they had Saké Day special offering some Daiginjo-grade sakés at $10 per glass.

I had 2 glasses. My choices were Wataribuné Junmai Daiginjo and Tatsuriki Junmai Daiginjo. I chose two very different styles - Wataribuné for more intense and frutiy flavor and Tatsuriki for its subtle but deep and long character.

In the fall, matsutaké tempura is a must!

I also had minced chiken and eggplant served in dashi, before I was off to Matsugen.


Matsugen is located in Tribeca on Church Street. One of the investor is Jean-George. They are highly acclaimed for their hand-made soba. The hand-made process begins with milling the buckwheat flour.

Yuba sashimi had a very delicate texture, cross between a firm tofu and egg omelet. While delicious, I thought it lacked the firm texture of yuba. This was followed by Wagyu Salad with sesame dressing, which was good.

Steamed Sea Eel with Ginger and Cucumber was delicious.

The next dish was Tokyo Clam Chowder with Soy Milk. While it tasted fine, the lightness of the soup was not a departure from a definition of a chowder.

The selection of the evening was the dry Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai from Kochi Prefecture in Shikoku.

Glass used to serve Suigei.

The highlight of the evening was their soba. I found out that they had a sampler to try three different types of soba with three different types of sauces. "Triple Threat" is not on the menu, and it features Seiro, Rin, and Inaka soba with regular dipping sauce, sesame dipping sauce, and duck dipping sauce.

Seiro is to the left, and it is the common style you would get at any restaurant. In the center is Rin, which is the very finely milled version, soba's equivalent to a ginjo or daiginjo. To the right is the coarse Inaka, soba's equivalent to kimoto. Of the three, I enjoyed Inaka the most, while Rin was preferred by couple others in our party.

The dessert was grapefruit jello, on the house.

The restaurant is still new, so as a diner, I sensed that it is not operating quite at peak efficiency just yet. However, the potential is evident. In terms of the meal, there were some hit and misses, but when it comes to soba, they just may serve the best soba in the City.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

9/28/08: Chai (Brooklyn) and Bozu

This was no ordinary Sunday night, as I had a chance to say farewell to 2 friends I met through Japanese baseball league. Farewell started with Thai dinner at Chai Home Kitchen in Brooklyn, followed by drinks at saké bar/restaurant Bozu. Of course, much thought was given in choosing both venues: Chai is owned by our Shinsengumi team mate, while Bozu is owned by a player from team named Silvers. Here's what transpired:

Papaya Salad

Japanese Styled Fried Chicken. We paired this dish with Daishichi Kimoto.

Duck Pineapple Curry (red curry sauce). We paired this dish with Kaori Junmai.

Yuka-san and Daisuke.

Baked Alaska

Sign for Bozu, located in Williamsburg, Broklyn.

We ordered a bottle of Ugo No Tsuki Junmai Ginjo from Hiroshima. Fruity and balanced, perfect to enjoy by itself.

The bottle with bar counter in the background.

Bamboo light shade by the entrance.

Yuka-san offered much support. Daisuke was our lead off hitter, short stop, and one of the pitchers. Their contributions will be sorely missed next season for sure.