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Food & Wine Festival
Food & Wine Pairings
"Sake, Sushi, and Sashimi"
October 10, 2005
(Tuna, Salmon and Hamachi)
Gekkeikan Horin Sake, Japan
(California Roll and Shrimp Tempura Roll)
Gekkeikan Haiku Sake, California
(Spicy Tuna and Spicy Miso Tuna)
Gekkeikan Nigori Sake, Japan
by Dotti Saroufim
ALL EARS NET® Photographer
Being a huge sushi and sashimi fan, I was very excited to hear that the Mitsukoshi Teppanyaki Dining Room would be hosting a Food and Wine Pairing called "Sake, Sushi, and Sashimi" during my stay in October! I decided to leave the less adventurous members of our traveling party in the capable hands of my husband so that I could sample this event. Maybe I'm the only one too afraid to ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster -- but, hey, I eat raw fish! Ha!
Shortly before 3:30 p.m., I arrived at the podium outside of the restaurant, checked in, and found that my three dining companions had already arrived. While we waited for our names to be called, I noticed it felt quite warm, but thought it was from the mad dash from Magic Kingdom to Epcot, the result of suddenly realizing I was running late. Sadly, this wasn't so -- the air conditioning in the restaurant had died completely and there wasn't even a hint of circulating air.
Once we were brought to our tables our host, Mr. Shigero, an executive for Mitsukoshi, greeted us and apologized for the lack of cool air. He then began to tell us the story behind Mitsukoshi -- how it began in 1673 as a food store, and in 1923 became a "fine detail department store." Headquartered in Japan, Mitsukoshi has many branches throughout that country and numerous foreign branches as well, Epcot's being one of two in the United States. He also mentioned that the company has had a wonderful working relationship with Walt Disney World since 1982. He then introduced the "sake specialist" ("It sound much better to call him wine sommelier") from Southern Wine and Spirits, Mr. Brian Koziol.
Brian told us about the history of sake (it's the oldest brewed beverage in the world), how it is made from different types of special sake rice, and how it's brewed like beer but served like wine. We learned that the company Gekkeikan has been brewing sake for over 300 years, and about the differences in the rice used in Japan and California -- Japan's making a richer, less sweet sake, and California's making a fruitier, sweeter beverage.
The last person to be introduced was the chef, who I believe was named Mr. Oshida, but to whom I apologize if it wasn't. The acoustics in the room, combined with the lack of microphones, the strong accents, and guests at a few tables behind us who talked among themselves throughout the entire presentation, made it sometimes difficult to hear. This entertaining and talented man worked in Japan for 20 years before beginning his 20-year stint in the U.S. We were told that, in Japan, you must work your way up, starting with the most basic of jobs, such as washing dishes and peeling pounds of vegetables, so that you can see each step of the process and appreciate how it contributes to the whole.
As these introductions were being made, the first course was brought to the table -- Nigiri Sushi. Nigiri sushi is pieces of fish served over hand-pressed, oval shaped, vinegared rice balls, and for our sample, we had tuna, salmon and hamachi (yellowtail tuna). We were informed that sushi rice is meant to be served warm -- at "human body temperature." (I'm sure that he meant on a normal day, not after sitting in this dining room for any length of time.)
The presentation was lovely, the rice perfectly cooked, and the fish extraordinary. To accompany this delightful trio, we were served Gekkeikan Horin Sake from Japan. Now here is where I got my first surprise. Sake is not meant to be served warm? Who knew? Our glasses were served in a great little invention -- a wooden box filled with crushed ice, with the glass set within. These contraptions are kept in the freezer until the cold sake is ready to serve; then the sake is poured into the already-chilled glasses. We all wanted to take one home. (We didn't!)
The second course was a plate of Maki Sushi (also known as roll sushi) and our selection was California Roll and Shrimp Tempura Roll, two of each. These were paired with Haiku Sake, which is made in California. This type of sake is made from 50% milled rice, and Brian was kind enough to pass around plastic bags full of rice to show us the differences. I have to admit that I wouldn't have passed a test if I had to name them afterwards, but it was interesting all the same.
The biggest treat for our table during this course was the freshly grated wasabi! The chef visited each table, demonstrating his grating technique up close, and we were each served a small dollop to try. I found it to have less of a "kick" than the more common version, but it had a much more distinctive flavor. You can actually taste the subtleties of a food when not taking deep breaths to prevent your head from going up in flames -- my usual reaction to misjudging the amount of wasabi to add to my food.
May I take this opportunity to thank my dining-mate, Dan, for not laughing at my attempts to eat sushi with my chopsticks, and for also not snickering when I finally gave in and asked for a fork. I also appreciated his restraint in not using his camera, especially during my battle with the seaweed. (I lost.)
Our third course was, by far, the most interesting. It was sampling of sashimi (raw fish, thinly sliced), our selection being Spicy Tuna and Spicy Miso Tuna. Good sashimi is on my top-five list of favorite foods, and seeing "spicy" on the menu, not once, but twice, made me wonder what good deed I had done to deserve this. I didn't even mind when the chef said that Spicy Miso is not something you would ever order in Japan ("We would say, 'Get the he** out of here -- this door!'") -- I was still in heaven. Nigori Sake, unfiltered sake that looks almost milky in texture, accompanied this course. Brian informed us that the filtering strips away the flavors, but is often done because consumers feel the beverage looks "cleaner." Keeping it pure and unfiltered leaves in the sweetness of the rice, and this sake was the perfect companion to the "zing" of the spicy fish.
At the end of this wonderful mini-meal, both the chef and Mr. Shigero were available for questions. We talked about sushi-eating etiquette -- how, in Japan, you wouldn't normally see anyone mix their wasabi with the soy sauce, making "wasabi soup." The wasabi is often put on the sushi by the chef, because he alone will be able to judge exactly how much is necessary to bring out the flavor. Also, I learned that for most sushi, it is very proper to eat it with your hands. All that chopstick humiliation for nothing
this time, the air-conditioning was blowing gloriously cool air back into
the restaurant, and I realized that I had managed to forget all about
my discomfort. I thoroughly enjoyed this whole experience -- the food,
the beverages, and the ability to learn a little something about a culture
that I respect and admire. If it's offered again, and I truly hope it
is, this food and wine pairing is definitely on my list for next year!