“Japanese Roulette” is a dangerous game. This is what I call the act of blindly picking unkown sakes off the menu just to “try something new”. The highest risks can have the best rewards, but sometimes things don’t quite go your way.
Scott and I have been to Tomoe several times, and it’s our open little secret that it’s the best sushi at any price in NYC. The line starts outside half an hour before the doors open… and it’s worth the wait. Normally, I order the best sake on the menu that I know – our dear old friend Hakkaisan. However, I noticed a name on the sake menu that I had never heard of – and with Scott’s permission, I ordered a carafe of this unknown.
What I ordered was Manzairaku “Junigo” No. 12 (Junmai, ALC 15%, Ishikawa prefecture). The carafe arrived and with the first sniff, my sake-spidey sense told me something was wrong. The smell was flat and a tad unwelcoming. Well, you can’t judge a sake by the nose alone,right? Well, then I noticed as I poured, this sake had an unmistakable yellow cast. This was particularly alarming as the Tomeo sake menu described this Junmai using only one word…”clear”. Ok, I’m starting to panic a bit now.
My first sip of this Junigo and it tasted off. flat. reminded me of somthing like mothballs or tree bark. But, being the optimists we are, Scott and I agreed that the sake perhaps needed to simply warm up ten degrees or so. Ice cold sake direct from the fridge sometimes affects the flavor. Once it warmed a bit, we sipped again. Oi. still no improvement. Now denial started to set in.
“Maybe it will taste better with food?” I suggested. Our amazing sushi deluxes arrive and we dig in. Well, even the best sushi in New York, was not camouflaging those mothballs. As a lame last ditch effort to figure out what the heck was up with this train wreck, I hypothesized… Maybe it’s a taru? A heavy handed Cedar-tinged taru can taste weird, right? A quick check in with the waiter and he confirmed it’s not a taru.
At this point I just give up. It most likely was just old sake past it’s prime. I wasn’t man enough to complain and send it back. Maybe Junigo Junmai was supposed to taste like mothballs? Screw it! I’m not gonna waste all this amazing sushi on some sucky sake.
Then in the back of my mind I hear Bonnie Tyler singing…
I need a hero!
I’m holding out for a hero til the morning light
It’s gotta be strong
And it’s gotta be fast
And it’s gotta be larger than life
I need a hero!
There must be a sake here that can swoop in, save the day and restore my faith in Japanese Roulette!
So with nothing left to lose, I grab the waiter and we order a nigori i’d never tried before. Scott loves those funky nigoris, but if this one sucked, the whole evening, sake-wise, was down the tubes! no pressure. I got a 300ml bottle of Shirakawago Sasanigori (Junmai Ginjo Nigori, SMV +1, ALC 15.5%, Gifu Prefecture). The moment the Shirakawago hit the table, I knew things were going to be OK!
First off, the little shot glasses that came with the nigori were beautiful and gave me hope the sake would be too. The nose and texture of this nigori was really great. it went down smooth and worked perfectly with the amazing sushi we were having. The mouthfeel was creamy, but lightly so. The well balanced Nigori was there to support the sushi, not demand center stage. delicious! Not only was the evening saved from disaster, but I discovered a nigori I actually really dig! More than that, I learned that it’s OK to take risks out there in Nihon-shu Land. You can’t win them all, but chances are high you’ll come out ahead.
After all this sake Sturm und Drang, I needed to end the meal with an unmitigated sure thing. Green tea ice cream, please… two scoops.