A few days ago, I was invited by a friend and talented chef, Rodney Wages, to curate a sake-pairing experience at his celebrated restaurant, Avery, in San Francisco.
The long-anticipated event consisted of two dinners in which Rodney partnered with the Caviar Company to a menu that delivered a unique experience in every bite.
Avery is the realization of Rodney’s dream, a quaint and cozy venue tucked 0n Fillmore street. He has created the ultimate dining experience with a small, but passionate, team of chefs that execute with precision in a lively and welcoming environment.
His wine and sake list is extensive and thoughtful with depth in Champagne, Burgundy, and Italy, as well as a deep collection of sake highlighting rare and hard-to-find bottles from some of Japan’s cult producers like Daishichi and Nechi Otokoyama.
The invitation included a carte blanche to open and feature anything on his list, so without hesitation I agreed to join the two-night event.
The menu consisted of 10 courses that transported the guests to places never explored before so the challenge was to match the fare with the appropriate thought-provoking sake.
After much thought and carefully reviewing the list, I was as excited as a kid on Christmas Day to open these iconic bottles and put them to the test.
Upon arrival, guests were greeted with the Tenko 20 Junmai Daiginjo from Kodama Shuzo in Akita ($390). A flashy an expressive style with notes of fresh strawberries and dazzling acidity polished down to a crazy 20%.
As for the initial course, it was a welcoming broth made of toasted grain and burnt onion butter to warm the soul, a staple of Avery.
The first dish was a late-summer celebration ‘The Farm’ Jacobson Orchards last of the season tomatoes with fresh herbs from Peter’s Yountville’s garden. A festival of textures and layers of spice from a pepper marinade and gelee.
The next course consisted of three small, but epic, dishes that celebrated caviar in all the extensions of the word. A golden osetra-filled buckwheat pocket with fermented tomato and anchovy dip with layers of texture and a marriage of flavors. A sunchoke custard with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame, white sturgeon caviar and sunchoke chips and a decadent oyster chowder with a generous portion of Hackleback caviar.
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The majestic presentation deserved a sake of similar proportions that made it like watching Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” performed live. My choice was one of the most influential sakes in my life, Nechi Otokoyama Koshitanrei Junmai Daiginjo 2014 from Watanabe Shuzo in Niigata ($888). The pinnacle of a true grower-producer sake domain that focuses on single rice strains delivering in every sip. This sake is reminiscent of the 2010 Château d’Yquem Ygrec Bordeaux Blanc with richness, citrus, honeysuckle and stamina, which made it an ideal companion to the caviar trio.
For the next move from the chef, he presented chopped lobster with fermented pineapple and smoked trout roe. A collection of creaminess, smokiness and a zesty component from the fermented pineapple. This course needed a sake that knows how to dance. I picked a lively and spunky Namasake from one of the most successful new brands in Niigata, Takachiyo Junmai Daiginjo Yamadanishiki extra edition ($145) this sake is rare; and only two cases made it to the United States before being consumed in Tokyo by the armies of followers.
To continue, Rodney and team delivered a rich, bold and memorable plate, chicken dumplings, chicken and butter bound together in little gnocchi-like pillows served with grilled abalone, seaweed, bacon foam and fresh matsutake mushrooms.
For this and the following umami-driven dishes, I paired a unique and virtually unattainable sake. The 2004 Katafune Lagoon Boat Junmai Daiginjo from Takeda Shuzo in Niigata ($2,888). The first time I tasted this sake, it was with Takeda San when we visited the brewery. Fireworks exploded, layers of orange marmalade, marzipan and yellow apples akin to an ‘80s Domaine Coche Dury Meursault. It was an exciting exercise to put this baby to the test with the dumplings and the following course: North Coast, grilled, dry-aged California beef served with a coastal sauce made of shrimp roe and garlic served with grilled brassicas.
Just when you thought you’d seen it all, the next dish arrived. Sweet Potato Pancakes served with Siberian caviar, layered with Harbison cheese from Vermont — just like being in heaven.
For the pairing, the Nishide 100-year Junmai Daiginjo from Ishikawa Prefecture, which pays homage to ancient techniques utilizing 100-year-old yeast strain procured at the brewery. Layers of roasted hazelnuts, caramel and lemon preserves intermingled beautifully with the rich pancakes.
Then, for the grand finale, a trio of small desserts composed of spiced pumpkin cake with popcorn and white chocolate, blackberries and green chartreuse and elderberry ice with cultured cream. This creative and delightful presentation was paired with Daishichi Myoka Rangyouku Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto Shizuku from Fukushima Prefecture ($778), most likely one of the last bottles in existence of this 2014 batch.
This gem exceeded expectations, layers of white flowers, green pineapple, lemon custard and white pepper jumped out of the glass and married beautifully, especially with the pumpkin cake.
This was without a doubt a one-of-a-kind experience in my book. I am extremely thankful to chef Wages and his team for the opportunity to play with their list and showcase these beauties.
Until next week, cheers!