Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another Minneapolis event: December 5th



What : "Sushi & Champagne Tasting"
When : Wednesday December 5, 7-9pm
Price: $38
Where : Nami, Downtown Minneapolis at 241 1st Avenue North
(corner of 1st Ave North and 3rd Street)
Buy Tickets at tc-uncorked.org

Time once again for our annual "Sushi & Sparkling" event to get you into the holiday spirit! Swill a little sparkling wine and champagne and sample a bit of sushi and rolls from our good friends at Nami. We also hope to have a few sakis so you can try a sip of those as well. Join us and kick off the holiday season!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

~ Pam, Toni, Tracie, Rachel, Tom, Lana, Kelly, Mark and Jonathan

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sake tasting dinner at Spill the Wine in Minneapolis

This should be fun!

Sake Dinner
Presented by VinoSource, who will be sharing tasting notes on the wine for the evening and our Chef who will be discussing the food.
November 29th, 2007 | 7pm
$69/person (includes tax and gratuity)

Course One
Mango Crab Salad with Cucumber, Lime and Mint
tozai living jewel, kyoto

Course Two
Miso Tofu Soup
with Fish Stock and Green Onion
rihaku wandering poet, shimane

Course Three
Ribeye Carpacio
Thai Style, Green Papaya Red Curry
tentaka hawk in the heavens, tochigi

Course Four
Tuna Tataki
Black pepper and Pickled Ginger Rice
mukane root of innocence, osaka

Course Five
Green Tea Panacata
tozai snow maiden, kyoto

Go here to find out more about Spill the Wine and to register.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Oldtime saké rituals

I was cataloguing a book today by a member of the Circumnavigators Club and I found an interesting description of saké drinking at a mid-1920s Geisha-Dinner Party. I like to think of all the men getting a little rambunctious and smashing sake cups into their heads! Here is the description:

The only wine consumed during the dinner was saké, and a few words regarding this are necessary.

In color, saké looks much like weak tea, and is always served hot in small shallow cups which hold about three table-spoonfuls. In taste it resembles hot sherry, and it is probable that its content of alcohol is about the same. All through the dinner saké was constantly being brought in and served to the guests. The customs surrounding its consumption are somewhat curious, and in brief are as follows:--

The first cup of wine is drunk by the guest of the evening. The host selects a cup, names the guest and says, “Dozo saké ippai onomu nasai” (Graciously condescend to imbibe a cupful of wine), at the same time touching the cup to his forehead and bowing toward the guest. The latter bows to his host, accepts the cup, touches it to his own forehead and holds it forward on the palm of his hand for the maid to fill, at the same time replying, “Arigato gozaimasu, itadakimasho,” (Thank you, I sure will). He drains the cup, rinses it out in a tureen of water which stands beside him, touches it to his forehead and returns it to his host with the request that he have one himself. Formalities satisfied, everyone else begs the privilege of a cup with the guest, and after him whomsoever he may fancy. To the uninitiated a word of caution: ‘Ware the cup that cheers in Japan, for the custom above outlined is easily capable of being carried beyond the realms of a joke, and in his desire to be polite one may learn that hot saké in sufficient quantities, and taken in small doses, “biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder.” Furthermore, saké does not behave well in mixed company.

JOHNSON, GEORGE A. The log of a circumnavigator being a series of informal narratives descriptive of a trip around the world. Boston: The Stratford Co. , 1927.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trader Joe-san's Sake

Sake at Trader Joe's...who knew? On a recent trip I found two varieties, a junmai ginjo and a sparkling sake. Here are the specs and my tasting notes on each:

Junmai Ginjo Premium Sake
Alcohol 14-15%
SMV +3 (medium dry)
Serving suggestion: Chilled
Texture: Soft and smooth
Pairing food: seafood and lightly grilled meats
Produced and bottled by Oimatsu Shuzo Co., Hita
Tasting notes: The scent is very pleasant, yeasty, and full of butterscotch. Taste is light and earthy, no fruits or sweetness at all.

Sparkling Sake
Alcohol 7%
Produced and bottled by Ume no Yado Brewery Co., Nara
Tasting notes: The aroma out of the bottle is ricey and fruity. The color is a creamy yellow and the bubbles are tiny and abundant. This was less sweet than the other sparkling sakes that I've had. I think I could confidently serve this to a skeptical champagne lover, while with something like Hou Hou Shu (which I love) I'd be worried it would be too sweet.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An aside...

I was in Washington D.C. last week for the Rare Book School class Japanese Illustrated Books in the Edo Period, and I had the opportunity to have dinner at Citronelle. There was no sake served with my tasting menu (why not?!), but I thought the meal was worth mentioning here because it was so ridiculously delicious. I had the Promenade Gourmande tasting menu with the wine pairing:


AMUSE BOUCHE, egg surprise, tuna sausage, escargot crumble

Champagne A. Margaine, “Brut Premier Cru” Villers-Marmery

"A NEW VICHYSSOISE", potato flakes, leek milk

SOFT SHELL CRAB, corn risotto

Riesling Grand Cru “Rosacker”, Domaine Sipp-Mack 2004

ROCKFISH, vegetable pearls, lemon verbena emulsion

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, “Les Gallimardes,” Domaine Giraud 2004


Meursault, Domaine Sylvain Dussort 2004

VEAL, black angus steak, sweetbreads, morel sauce, asparagus

Gevrey-Chambertin, “Cuvee Pere Galland,” Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon 2003


Shiraz, Mollydooker Wines, “The Boxer”, South Australia 2006



Banyuls, “Helyos”, Domaine Alain Reynaud 2002


Well, the cost was quite shocking, but I have to say, I'm often disappointed by expensive, extravagant meals, but it wasn't the case with Citronelle. The food really was fantasy-like as was the service. I was dining alone and they gave me a wonderful table with a great view of the kitchen and I felt like they treated me like a princess. Maybe it's time to start saving up for my next trip to D.C., because I absolutely want to go back!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Rare sake tasting event in Minneapolis: a review

In August there was a sake tasting at Zipps Liquors in Minneapolis, organized by Jason Kallsen of Twin Cities Wine and featuring sakes imported by JoTo Sake. Here is the official description of the event:
Hey everybody -- short notice here, but we just arranged for one of the top sake experts in the country to do an informal (but extraordinary) tasting of some of the best sakes available!

The importer is JoTo sake, run by a fellow named Henry Sidel (a Carleton grad to boot). JoTo Sake is a specialist in importing the smallest production, truly artisnal sakes available. Many of these sakes were only available in their local prefectures. Henry's new midwest manager, Midori Roth, is flying in from Chicago for this event.

More info on their portfolio can be found at www.jotosake.com

If you've ever been curious about sake, wondered how to 'talk the talk' at the sushi bar, and were curious just how good sake can be, this will be an event second to none!

Zipps Liquors
2618 Franklin Avenue East
Minneapolis , MN 55406

The tasting was great fun and it was nice to meet the Joto representatives. The sakes we tasted were:
Shiichi Hon Yari Junmai
Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai
Kasumi Tsuru Yamahi Ginjo
Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo
Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry
Yuki No Bosha Komachi Daiginjo
Watari Bune Junmai Daiginjo

And a few other sakes that Zipps carries:
Rihaku Tokubetsu Junmai
Wakatake Daiginjo
Hananomai Junmai Daiginjo
Mu Junmai Daiginjo
Hakutsuru Junmai Daiginjo

My favorites were the feminine, floral Shiichi Hon Yari Junmai and the velvety (yummy!) Yuki No Bosha Komachi Daiginjo.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sake Samurai in Tokyo (nearly a year later!)

On our first full day in Tokyo, we went to Sake Plaza, located in the Central Brewers' Union's Building in Shinbashi. This was fun, except for the fact that all of the information was in Japanese. Of course, I bought all the little sake booklets. Other purchases included a water pitcher and cups and a hydrometer to measure the smv (this is currently useless to me as I can't read the instructions). We also got sake calendars which apparently are much collected, something that sake lovers wait all year for. Upstairs there is a library with some nice exhibits, including big scrapbooks filled with sake bottle labels. The best part of the visit was finding out that later in the afternoon there would be a large sake tasting. There were about 325 sakes to taste and I did a pretty good job. Spread throughout the room were several spittoons which I laughed at at first, but by about the 5th sake I too was spitting like a pro. Mayu was with me and she is from Chiba, so we made a point of trying all the sake from Chiba. That was fun as it put a focus on the tasting that I otherwise wouldn't have achieved. All the tasters received an official "sake samurai" tasting cup, a very nice souvenir.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


While visiting Nagasaki we stayed at a spa resort on Ioujima. Check out the iron kettles we sat in while looking out onto the harbor and the volcanic ash we COOKED in at the spa. We had dinner at the resort both nights, the first being a Healthy Meal, the highlight of which was collagen jelly and the second being an entire meal of various courses of fugu. We had fugu sashimi, fugu nabe, deep fried fugu and seared fugu. For this meal we brought the bottle of nama sake that I picked up from the mama-san in Osaka. I had a sake flight with the healthy meal, but, unfortunately, I didn't take notes.

In Nagasaki we visited the Atomic Bomb Museum and we all felt that the displays were much more graphic than those in Hiroshima. If you want to get a first-hand account of the day the bomb was dropped and its aftermath, you should read The Bells of Nagasaki by Takashi Nagai, a doctor who cared for the sick and dying while he was sick himself. It's very moving. Also (on a lighter note) the doctor advocated using sake for medicinal purposes:
"Rice wine, or sake, proved to be an excellent medicine. There were examples of dying persons being cured at the last moment by drinking a large quantity of their favorite sake."

Nagasaki is a sister city of St. Paul's and we were charmed to find a St. Paul Street and even a St. Paul parking garage!


On our final day in Osaka (way back in December), Mayu and I spent the afternoon at Spa World where I contemplated sticking my feet in a pool swarming with minnows as this is supposed to be very relaxing. I chickened out at the last minute... Afterwards we met Rob at the station and left for Hiroshima.

We went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which was very moving, although Mayu and I were still a little numb from visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 in Cambodia. Still, seeing melted bottles and iron shutters and children's burned school uniforms and charred lunch boxes was sobering. We found that in Hiroshima, as we would find in Nagasaki and as we had found in Cambodia, the residents were really concerned that the world remember what happened.

At our two meals in Hiroshima, we also found that the locals were very proud of their food and their jizake. On our first night we stopped a young couple on the street and Mayu asked if they knew of a good izakaya and they excitedly told us they had just had a great meal at one and they walked with us for several blocks to show us where it was. It was called Hina Matsuri (which is the Girl's festival on March 3rd). The chefs were so happy to have us there. I must say, everyone loves Mayu and she makes friends very easily, luckily for us! We ate tuna, octopus, sardine and yellowtail sashimi, grilled Japanese smelt, agadashi tofu, fried chicken, yakitori, and we were presented by the chef with Hiroshima style ozoni (a mochi in soup) that is usually only eaten on New Years Day. We asked for Hiroshima sake and were given Ugo no Tsuki, about which John Gauntner has this to say:
Ugo no Tsuki, or "the moon after rain," is among Hiroshima's finest. It has a soft and melting quality, perhaps better closer to room temperature than chilled, as a well-grounded sweetness and several ripe fruit essences become apparent. Clean and light. You don't need to go as far as a daiginjo, either. Ugo no Tsuki also makes a fine tokubetsu junmai that is similar but perhaps more sturdy and less airy.
I've found that I can get it in the U.S., so it's on my list of things to get...it'll be nice to partially relive that special meal.

The next day we went to Miyajima Island and visited the floating torii, the wild yet tame deer, and the streets full of cute shops. We stopped at a tiny restaurant and had tonkatsu, chicken and rice and fried oysters and lots of beer. For the ferry ride back to the mainland, we bought momiji manju which are maple shaped sweets.

Our dinner that night was actually one of the highlights of the trip for me. Mayu used her amazing skills to hunt down an out of the way izakaya called Shikon (shi = lion; kon = spirit or soul). A trio of young people owned and operated the restaurant and they were thrilled to find out that I was interested in sake and very proud of Hiroshima sake. Miho said that her favorite sake was Biho, brewed by a lady brewer also named Miho. There apparently is some connection between the characters for mi and bi which is why Miho named her sake Biho. I only realized after I got home that this is the same brewery that makes Moon on the Water which I can buy right here in Minneapolis.

Our Miho suggested that we go to Chokotto, a local sake bar, and she actually walked us there and stayed and had a few drinks with us. The snacks were delicious: pickled eggplant, daikon radish, Hiroshima greens, roasted ginko nuts. We were also served an extraordinary water that a local brewery used for it's sake and Miho explained to us how important water is while drinking sake. She said we should take a sip of water between every sip of sake. We left Chokotto very satiated and with new friends and a poster showing Hiroshima sake labels.

Monday, January 08, 2007

More Japan

[By the way, this was Thursday, November 30th]

In Osaka we stayed at Inn Ishihashi, my first time at a ryokan! This place was inexpensive and conveniently located near Osaka station. The proprietors were so nice and seemed happy to have a western girl stay with them (especially since I had Mayu to teach me how to put on and take off my slippers and such!).

We arrived last night and walked around a bit. We stopped in at Takashimaya and looked over their sake selection. I picked two sparkling sake (shown in the picture) and a nice shop lady noticed and told me that the next day they were expecting their shipment of sparkling Suzune (made by Ichinokura of Miyagi Prefecture), a sake that is made in limited numbers and only available around this time of year. So, today we went back and picked up a bottle (as of today, February 5th, I haven't had a chance to drink it. I'm waiting for my friend Sally who I'm going to share it with. I'll report back.)

We had a really great meal at a small izakaya. They had their own nama sake, which they served out of a giant glass jug. The chef scooped the sake out of the jug into a bowl and then we served ourselves from the bowl.

The sake was extraordinary as was the food. After the meal, the mama-san brought Mayu and me upstairs to see the sake tank. I didn't really understand the setup completely. I think they said that they used to be a sakagura, but they weren't doing enough business, so they opened an izakaya downstairs and an Italian restaurant upstairs. It was a rare opportunity and again, I never would have experienced it without Mayu's help.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

First day in Japan: shopping, sake, hot springs...

"An old, but tasteful environment
feel comfortable space surrounded by
the attached furnitures and dishes.
Well, you will taste delicious dishes
you have never had tonight."

That was the promise on the brochure of Tofuro, what I took to be a "chain" izakaya in Chiba, Japan (I think it was a chain and I think it was in Chiba. Details were fuzzy on this entire trip and I feel too guilty to ask Mayu to spend hours translating for me - if anyone can tell what that sake was from the photo, please let me know!)

The day started with shopping. I bought the first of many sake cups on this trip at Sogo. These aren't my usual style, but I thought they were interesting and I hadn't seen anything like them before.

We had dinner at Tofuro and followed up with baths at Lapis Lazuli badenroom. I love onsen. The few that I have been to seem to have a few things in common: several baths of varying temperatures, some inside, some outside; a place to buy refreshments; an area with lounger chairs, usually with big screen televisions. This is one thing that I have never understood. You go to the baths, have a massage, get completely relaxed...and then go to a lounge area to watch loud, crazy t.v.? Well, obviously, that is the height of relaxation for many people. I still love onsen. I've been to two previously, La Qua in Tokyo near the dome and another in Yamanashi, but this was the first time I had a female friend along with me to explain all the intricate rituals and manners expected at onsen. I was amazed at how much I must have offended on my first two visits! Oh well, I take it that Japanese expect gaijin to make endless faux pas...