Hotel Nikko, San Francisco September 9, 2004 (6-8:30pm)
What: More than 140 newly released Fall sakes, including many not available in the USA, and gold/silver winners from the National Sake Appraisal. This is the largest sake tasting outside of Japan. Surrounding the sakes are food/chefs from 13 top Japanese restaurants from the Bay Area.
We arrived and had to wait in line for our will call tickets even though the line was much shorter for the buy tickets now line… oh well. We were given programs and directed upstairs where there was a table of jigger-like plastic cups to take from just outside the ballroom.
Our first stop, ANZU restaurant’s booth, we scored a choice of sushi rolls (I chose yellowtail and salmon) and a little tartlet with shredded pork and a mayonnaise that was the perfect match (sex in your mouth). Then onto the immediate next line for nigri of yellowtail, maguro or sake at the next restaurant’s table (never did find out the name).
The tables in the center of the ballroom held the sake arranged by type and further arranged by imported or non-imported. We chose to start with the non-imported. In front of each Sake bottle was a plastic cup of sake and a plastic squeeze dropper to siphon the sake out of the big cup and into your little cup. All sakes were self-poured.
After visits to Betelnut and the Japanese restaurant at the Hilton (with by far the most interesting assortment of food – from a lobster dumpling to lotus root with red bean paste and white turnip filled with something amazing – a number of things I couldn’t identify but they tasted good) we went back to sake tasting. Jack and I went solo tasting whatever looked interesting – I chose big bottles, and bottles with interesting labels. Then after a while I was on the lookout for Junmaishu sakes which I decided had the fruity taste I seemed to like best. We did a couple of circles of the room for sake and food – spit buckets were near to impossible to manage and we felt like although we were consuming tiny quantities of each sake – it was going to add up to a lot by the time we were done.
Jack found the fish on the left side of the ballroom to be the best of the night – however when he went back about 7:30 there was no more to be had – in fact quantities everywhere seemed to be running low. The crush at the sake tables was incredible – it was now impossible to choose an individual sake to taste and then find another. At one of the more popular tables (daigshu B?) you had to wait in line at one end of the table and walk around it tasting each sake in order or wait until you got to the one you wanted to try. We bailed about this point and headed to Farrallon for dinner. In a phrase. Too many people spoil the sake tasting.
Jack’s take: I was really excited about going. Both Ken Tominaga from Hana Japanese (in Rohnert Park, CA) and a top sake importer had told me that this is a really terrific tasting to go to… the best one for sake in the US. So my expectations were high.
So we get there just a few minutes after it’s supposed to begin and it’s already very busy…and just gets worse! Long lines for food, and you have to be patient (fight your way in) to taste some sakes. It was somewhat noisy too.
I tasted some really good sakes…but there became a point where I just lost interest. Too many people, too much noise… this just makes it too difficult to successfully taste and judge. The fun part was tasting many sakes you can’t get in the United States. I did like that you can pour as much as you want (well, squeeze).
Net result, I don’t feel I learned anything or improved my knowledge of sake. Kind of a Joyless of Sake. Aargh!