Sunday, March 9, 2014
I met an old friend of mine for lunch in Meguro on a sunny day.
It's a beautiful former residential house, which was turned into a restaurant. They serve elegant kaiseki-style cuisine. We started our lunch with Nagai Sake's Mizubasho Pure. It's a sparkling sake made in Champagne method. Really clean and beautiful.
One after another, small individual courses were very seasonal early spring treats in elegant ceramics.
More courses in lacquer bowls. The rice was Iga rice cooked in donabe! We had the Iga rice in 3 ways. First, they served the rice from the very center of the donabe. It's the most delicate and soft part. Then, we were served more rice after it was mixed in the donabe. The lids were turned over and also used as serving bowls. How nice.
The third rice was "ochazuke" style (hojicha tea poured over rice), with the guji fish and miso topping. It was very light and perfect as the last savory course. The dessert with the matcha was also perfect.
My body was feeling the beautiful early spring.
Friday, March 7, 2014
|View from Hakkaisan Sake Brewery|
The entire property was really gorgeous. Just from the scenery and the feel of the clean air, it already makes sense they make premium-quality sake which is recognized internationally.
We toured Hakkaisan's "yukimuro" (snow cellar), which is essentially a natural snow refrigerator of ancient invention. In Niigata, which is a heavy snow region, there used to be many "yukimuro" until electric refrigerators were developed in 1950's. Now, there are several "yukimuro" in use. Hakkaisan built this new giant "yukimuro" last year to take the best advantage of the natural condition of the region. They keep about 100 tons of snow in the room all year round and the room is used for both aging sake and refrigerating vegetables.
Hakkai san also makes outstanding rice shochu (spirit). They are currently experimenting aging shochu in french oak barrels. It's going to be very interesting to try it when it's ready! We tasted the wide lineup of Hakkaisan's sake and shochu. I wish I could brought home everything.
We left Niigata in the late afternoon. I got home with a lot of sake and full of wonderful memories. My mom and I enjoyed Hakkaisan's Nigori Sparkling Sake, and Asahi Shuzo's Katsuho Junmai Ginjo. The taste of both sake brought my heart straight back to Niigata!
This trip to Niigata was simply amazing. Sake, food, and people's "omotenashi" spirit...Niigata is wonderful.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
|Hakkaisan's craft beer and Mochibuta pork sausage pizza|
The area is surrounded by mountains covered in snow. From the station, we headed to our first destination, which is Hakkaisan Beer Brewery. Yes, the famous sake brewery also has a micro-beer-brewery operation. Their beer has a serious fan base among beer aficionados in Japan.
We were very happy we finally got there. They make 3 kinds of artisan beer, so we wanted to try.
T the brewery, they have a casual Italian restaurant with the wood fire oven. We enjoyed the fresh beer with local vegetable salad and pizza. Pizza was Niigata's mochibuta pork sausage. Wonderful.
Monday, March 3, 2014
|Pork and Vegetable Hot Pot was cooked in their freshly bottled sake!|
Asahi Shuzo is located in a country side surrounded by nature. It's about 35-minute drive from Nagaoka Station. It's one of the most highly-respected sake producers in Niigata, and they are famous for Kubota brand.
The chief "toji" (sake brewery master), Anzawa-san, gave us a special tour in the brewery where Kubota was under production. Unfortunately, especially since the brewing sake were exposed inside and very sensitive, we were unable to bring camera inside. The tour was fantastic. We even tasted freshly racked Kubota Nama Genshu (un pasteurized or diluted fresh sake)...amazing!
After the tour, we had more tasting of their lineup at their tasting room. It was like heaven.
The tasting was followed by sake tasting dinner party! We started with the educational sake pairing courses.
All the beautiful local treats were brought to the table one after another, and so many kinds of sake were poured non stop. The fresh local octopus from Sea of Japan was lightly broiled at the table.
Hot pot was local Mochi Buta pork belly and vegetables, cooked in their Asahiyama sake! The sake was so generously (and powerfully) poured into the pot. Wow, the dish was amazing.
We kept savoring all the delicious dishes and amazing sake. We also learned so much about their sake and tasting sake from Anzawa-san at dinner. It was a true feast and we felt so lucky to be there.
We love Niigata so much.