|Yoshizumi. We drank local and loved it|
Most restaurants, even fine ones, have only a few sakes on the list. We stayed in a terrific gourmet ryokan in Izu-kogen that had only four sakes, and one was sold out. You could choose Yoshizumi (the local small-production sake they recommended), a cheaper alternative, or an expensive famous label (Kubota Manju, which is a heck of a sake.) We chose the local brew, which is of course what they want; the idea is that it goes with the local ingredients.
One Tokyo restaurant we went to, Teppen, specializes in sake, and it had three pages of sakes -- but two pages listed 3 sakes each with extensive descriptions (including a photo of the brewmaster and a description of his philosophy), and one listed 9 with shorter descriptions. All told, it had 15 sakes from different regions, at different price levels. While not the longest list in Japan, it's more extensive than at 99% of other restaurants.
California restaurants have been taking culinary cues from Japan for years, in ingredients, technique, and even actual dishes. Twenty years ago it was sushi; now there's a ramen craze. I wonder if there's something U.S. restaurants can learn for their wine lists from Japan's sake choice philosophy.
|Fish from the Izu region; the pink-flesh one I'd never heard of|
But unlike Wine Spectator, which rewards volume over precision in its wine list awards, I've always preferred a short, well-chosen wine list.
The sommelier's job is important, but in this case the most crucial work happens before the restaurant opens, both in curating the selections and in writing descriptions that allow us to learn about our choices without having to ask about every wine on the list. Ordering is faster and less fraught with potential regret, and diners can concentrate on the reason they came: the food.
|Starter plate. The snap pea wrapped in fresh ham at right was excellent. Hotaru ika (upper left) are in season|
15 wines might not seem like quite enough for a fine restaurant; you need red, white, pink and sparkling. But really -- and consider that this comes from someone who enjoys Turkish Narince and Croatian Teran -- how many wine choices does anyone really need for one dinner?
|Noodles made from seaweed. So much different food, but only 3 sakes|