by Zac Mallard
We sent Zac Mallard over to O-Ku this afternoon for the Sushi and Sake Luncheon. Here's his take:
At O-Ku this afternoon, I sat down to a place setting of chopsticks, water, and four empty wine glasses, heightening my already high feelings of anticipation. I read in Cosmo once that anticipation is just as strong a sensation as "doin' the deed." The Sake and Sushi Luncheon at O-Ku today was a sake-paired four courses, a deed I was more than ready to do.
The first course was a toro tartare (raw tuna) enveloped in a sweet soy compote with apple and Asian pear, served atop a golden crisped sticky rice patty. A drop of black caviar created a beautiful contrast with the lightly colored cracker. A small purple flower finished the plate.
The first sake — Kikusui Junmai Ginjo — came from the northern region of Japan and was very dry and had light, complex floral and fruity aromas. Now, to say I distinguished that all by myself is to give my palate a smidgen too much credit. A big smidgen. Luckily, Stuart Morris of Hana Japanese Restaurant in San Francisco was on hand to teach us about sake. It's also lucky there was another place setting, as I had already consumed my glass in its entirety by the time Morris arrived to our table to give us the lowdown. Morris is a certified Sake Sommelier, a title achieved by only six non-Asians. The standards are tough and require an eight-hour test involving blind tasting and identification of rice, region and style of various sakes. For Morris, it also included multiple trips to Japan. Dude likes to party.
The second course was seared Wagyu tataki with truffle oil and micro greens alongside a Japanese sweet potato puree. The meat had a warm, pink, tender center and the slight crust formed by the sear was very nice. We've all had a nice steak though, yeah? Well, take the last nice steak you had, and imagine it with the sweet, soft flavor of sweet-potato casserole. Yes, sweet potato casserole, the bite with the brown sugar on top, that you take way after the Thanksgiving meal should be done, the bite that really puts things in perspective. That's what this creamy, light orange puree was like. I'd it it with a spoon and be happy.
The second sake — Tentaka Kuni, Junmai — was less complex, and hit the mouth a bit more than the first. A scent of melon and walnut were very present. Stuart told me that both sakes use the same rice but are from different regions, resulting in the rather different tastes.
The third course came out on a giant platter. My pops used to always complain about sushi not being a "real meal" or some jive, but with this plate, there's no way he'd try that line.
An avocado roll with tuna and lime on top was joined by a beautiful, fresh assortment of nigiri including uni, toro, Big Eye tuna, Tasmanian salmon, escolar, aji, walu, and an egg-based piece of tamago. The large portion was as beautiful to the eyes as it was the tongue. The fish was paired with another fruity sake — Jokigen Junmai Ginjo — which had a melony essence, and a crisp, quick finish.
Ice cream is the best dessert. Don't try and approach me with other ideas. I'm close-minded on very few issues, and ice cream is one. I love a good tart and all that, but ice cream holds my heart. My cold, cold heart..
The Japanese ice-cream, "mochi," is a novelty I've tried before. The ice-cream is inside a gooey, chewy, rice dough wrapping. Its a very textural experience, and the strawberry and coffee flavors were both creamy and of a nice consistency. The final sake was a sparkling Zipang and was very sweet when first sipped, with bright open flavors. If that could replace the champagne at half the places I drink it, I'd be super stoked.
Lunch was amazing, the plates were finished with care by the super nice Chef Sean Park, and the information shared by Stuart Morris was very interesting. Sushi is one of the finer things in life, and with the ever growing popularity of the northern King Street area, my hopes are that O-ku will be here to provide it for many more Wine and Food Festivals.