Happy Wednesday. Add a little spice to your day with musings from Jai.
As part of my continuing education of anything and everything, I recently took a sake tasting class at o ya in Boston. If you haven’t been, add it to your bucket list.
I am no stranger to good food, but o ya’s menu is hands down the best meal I have ever eaten. I first went for my 40th birthday last March. I enjoyed the 16-course tasting menu, or as they call it, omakase, and each bite was better then the last.
o ya is a contemporary Japanese restaurant who menu is izakaya-style, which means it consists of a variety of small plates designed to encourage exploring a variety of flavors throughout the meal. The extensive menu includes creative nigiri-style sushi and sashimi, as well as a variety of cooked dishes, like luxurious wagyu beef, kurobuta pork and poulet rouge chicken. And, of course, an extensive list of premium sakes are served.
The class I took was called Sake 101, and sake sommeliers Nancy Cushman and Alyssa DiPasquale held the 90-minute afternoon class and tasting, teaching the basics of sake paired with some of o ya’s signature dishes.
Nancy Cushman’s passion for sake was sparked over a decade ago in her hometown of Chicago. After her first sake experience, she became fascinated with it and made studying the beverage her mission. She left her career as an advertising executive and in 2006, and completed the Sake Professional Course in Japan with John Gauntner, who is recognized as the world’s foremost sake expert. In Boston in March 2007, she opened o ya with her husband Tim Cushman. In 2012, Nancy travelled back to Japan to complete the Advanced Sake Professional Course and is now one of fewer than 100 people in the world to have this certification.
First, we learned what sake is. It only has 4 ingredients – rice, water, yeast and koji. Koji is one of the crucial ingredients in sake brewing. Koji is steamed rice that has had koji-kin, or koji mold spores, cultivated onto it. This magical mold, for which the official scientific name is Aspergillus Oryzae, creates several enzymes as it propagates, and these are what break the starches in rice into sugars that can be fermented by the yeast cells, which then give off carbon dioxide and alcohol. Without koji, there is no sake. Then we learned what makes a great sake is the polishing of the rice … this determines what type of sake you get after the brewing.
Then we enjoyed 5 sakes and tastings.
The first tasting was a Junmai Daiginjo , a light bodied sake with delicate pure flavors with Diver Scallop Sashimi, sage tempura, olive oil bubbles and Meyer lemon. If you generally like Reisling or Savignon Blanc, then you’d probably like the Junmai Daiginjo.
The second tasting was a Junmai Ginjo, a medium bodied sake with fruity floral flavors paired with Kumamoto Oysters, ponzu-marinated watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette. If you are a Chardonnay drinker, then you’d probably like this sake.
The third tasting was a Junmai, a full bodied sake with flavors of rice, earth and mushrooms. Junmai is a pure sake, make just from rice koji and water It was paired with Tuna Tataki, smoked pickled onions and truffle oil. If you enjoy Pinot Noi or Merlot, then this sake would be for you.
The fourth sake was a Nigori, which was unfiltered paired with a Hamachi Sashimi, with Vietnamese mignonette, Thai basil and fried shallots.
The dessert course was an 8-year aged sake called Hanahato Kijoshu, which was served with orange sesame chocolate truffles.
The class and the food were amazing. The restaurant plans to offer this class again as well as others - delving deeper into on type of sake and non-traditional pairing classes like sake and Italian food.
At $125 a person it wasn’t cheap, but it sure was memorable.
For more information about Sake School or to make class reservations, you can contact Alyssa DiPasquale or Caitlin Hanna at 617.654.9900 or Alyssa@oyarestaurantboston.com.