Did you know that sake isn’t meant just for sake bombs? And that is doesn’t pair only with sushi? Prior to our unique Momokawa Supper Club experience, Katie and I hadn’t explored the world of sake much beyond college sushi and sake bomb dinners, but through the last of a three-part intimate and educational dinner series, we were able to soak up a lot of sake knowledge and become familiar with Oregon craft sake label Momokawa.
Momokawa Supper Club found success in New York, Los Angeles, Sonoma and Chicago and decided it was time to bring this concept to Momokawa’s home state. The three-part series started at Wildwood in February, followed by Andina in March and ended with Saucebox in April. The challenge was for chefs to take bottles of Oregon craft sake and create a meal free of asian influence and anticipated flavors. Saucebox features a pan-Asian menu, but Chef Alex Diestra stayed away from any predictable combinations.
Contrary to the popular assumption that sake is distilled and can be bought only in liquor stores, it is actually brewed more like beer, but drank in a similar fashion as wine. In fact we were welcomed to the event with a small glass of Ruby, a Junmai Ginjo style sake, served in a port wine glass. With hints of melon, tropical fruits, and pear, this sake was one of my favorites from the evening.
Now for the fun stuff. The pairings! All five courses were introduced by a representative of Saucebox and Momokawa. Each round we learned a little about the food and the sake that inspired the dish. First were chili crab legs with mango, shrimp paste and sweet sticky rice, paired with Momokawa Silver.
Traditionally a very spicy dish, this version was toned down, which Katie and I found a little disappointing. We think a little more heat would have paired nicely with the bold, dry, crisp flavors of the Silver sake. Also, the rice was stuffed inside the crab shell which was a unique presentation, but a little difficult to extract!
The first course was followed by a lemongrass sorbet palate cleanser, which unfortunately didn’t make an appearance between each round. It was so refreshing and light!
Round two was Lechon. A dish traditionally prepared in the Philippines by roasting an entire pig, this suckling pig was instead brined for three days since Saucebox isn’t equipped with a giant rotisserie. The cut of pork loin, pork jowls, and pickled vegetables was Katie and my second favorite dish of the night. The pork jowl was definitely a popular item throughout the room and those tiny shitake mushrooms were SO good!
The lechon was paired with Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo, a heavier and sweeter sake with hints of pineapple and caramel. This was not our favorite sake of the night, demonstrated by how quickly we ate our food while our drinks remained untouched (which says a lot about Katie and me, we rarely leave a glass of anything unfinished!)
Round three featured Katie’s favorite sake, but our least favorite dish. The Mapo Tofu was served with fermented black beans, radishes and szechuan peppercorns. Again, traditionally a very spicy dish that was toned down. We definitely understand that a lot of spice won’t please the majority, but I’m typically a “mild/medium” on the spice scale and I didn’t detect much spiciness at all. The soft tofu was a little mushy for us, which I think might have been helped if it had soaked up some spicier sauce.
While this wasn’t our favorite round of food, it gave the sake a chance to shine! The Momokawa Diamond is a blend of Ruby and Silver, which we had sampled previously. This was a great combination since the Ruby is sweeter and the Silver was slightly too dry for us. The practice of blending sake is common in Japan and helps to achieve a more standardized flavor.
Our final savory course was absolutely our favorite dish and my favorite sake! Chef Alex prepared a lamb rendang with two cuts of lamb: loin and tenderloin. Accompanied by spring asparagus, fried yucca root, and morels, this was perfectly cooked. After the somewhat lack luster tofu, we were excited for this meat dish served with a great sauce (I believe coconut milk was involved). The sake to compliment this dish was Momokawa Pearl, a Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu-style sake. That’s a mouthful, you might say! So let’s take a moment, and break it down.
Nigori means that it is a cloudy sake and Genshu suggests that it is not diluted, resulting in a higher alcohol content (18%). The cloudy sake is a result of the end product not being pressed, leaving some of the rice solids in the drink. I think this sake was more mild than the ones preceding it with layers of coconut, anise, banana, and creamy sweet rice.
Katie and I decided we would be happy to skip dessert and instead opt for round two of lamb rendang, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option so we proceeded with the rest of the group to the dessert course: Vietnamese coffee with a walnut brownie, coffee semifredo and rhubarb served with Momokawa Organic Nigori, another cloudy sake. The dessert was pretty delicious, but I guess I’m just more of a savory kind of foodie. In addition, I’m not going to lie, with such a decadent dessert in front of me, I would have enjoyed a cup of coffee or a glass of red wine to compliment. The sake just didn’t call to me after a bite of thick, creamy chocolate.
Our Momokawa introduction to sake was a great experience, and highly informative. We love the supper club concept and found the educational aspects of the evening to be interesting and helpful, gaining a reputation for our “technical terms” to describe the dishes and as the “tough question askers,” we would recommend this type of meal for those looking for more insight and education.
As traditional wine and cocktail drinkers, we likely won’t forgo all else and turn into avid sake drinkers. However, Saucebox’s creative pairing and the variety that Momokawa offers has our interest peaked, and the learning experience certainly won’t stop here.
We plan to visit this summer-perhaps we’ll try their Moonstone Plum Sake on draft.