This Week in the Liquid Diet

After the beat down my crew and I took at the restaurant this week I was in need a chill day of good food and libations. The discovery of a new spot for brunch and a long overdue return to a Denver gem were in order.  Naturally, a beer is on the docket, but this week I was really feeling a cool glass of sake.  I have noticed over the last few months that the manner of these articles really reflects the mood at which the beverages were consumed.  The mood can be serious or playful or relaxed or insightful or educational or down right bat-shit crazy. The articles really emulate the twists of my twisted mind as I consume copious amounts of alcohol.  Good for me, not sure how it affects you.

Sunday October 16, 2011 at 1:32 PM MST:

17th Avenue has really catapulted itself as a Denver food neighborhood, especially for brunch.   Spots like Stueben’s and Olivea are true brunch aficionado destinations on Sunday Funday.  I was headed to a different place not yet know for its brunch, but I trust will be soon.  My goal was to snack on some goodness, partake in one of many stellar beers on their list and support my good friends Philippe and Jared at Park & Co.  Phillipe’s pedigree in the Denver food scene is top notch, and Jared just came on board from his most recent stint as opening Chef at Satchel’s on 6th.

Like I often do when pairing beer and food I chose the beer first and then planned my meal around it.  It didn’t take me long to lock in a 2011 Pere Jacques by Goose Island (Chicago, IL).  A Belgian Dubbel is really one of the best beers to have with brunch fare in general.  The caramel sweetness and high alcohol (8%) match so well with fatty rich foods.  Also, in the case of my meal the Dubbel really pops with a bit of spice.  At a glance I thought that the burrito with carnitas and green chili was an obvious choice, and after Jared gave it his top recommendation the pairing was set!  The tender braised pork took on just the right amount of smokiness from a hard sear ‘ala plancha’, while the spice of the green chili kicked me right into BEER30 mode.

It is so funny to me that Goose Island is creating such quaffable beers these days.  I remember being a punk high school kid and finding a liquor store that would sell my friends and I beer.   We drank some of the shittiest beer, which of course, we thought was as good as it gets!  One of the beers I used to buy all the time was Goose Honker Ale from this very brewery who’s beer I now hold in high regard.  Maybe Goose Island was truly my gateway drug into the craft beer scene I am now so immersed in.   Maybe I was a beer connoisseur all along, but my vision was just so clouded by 40’s of Mickey’s and Miller High Life!  Thank you Goose Island for bringing me full circle!

Sunday October 16, 2011 at 8:04 PM MST:

Honestly, after my first visit to Sushi Den when I first moved to Denver four years ago I hadn’t made another effort to return.  I felt it was just too big and hectic for sushi.  I enjoy a much more zen experience when I sushi (that’s right ‘sushi’ as a verb!).  I was one of the Chefs interviewed for this year’s Westword Dish edition and there was a question about your favorite dish at a Denver restaurant.  I answered the brisket at Masterpiece Delicatessen, but it was the vast number of my peers and friends who listed quite a few different Sushi Den dishes as their favorites.  So, I finally made my return to try some of the dishes mentioned.

Some of the dishes included Crispy Spicy Tuna, House Roll, Jalapeno Sashimi, Hamakama, O-Toro and Lobster Tempura Roll.  Unlike the case at Park & Co, I knew for the most part what I would be eating, so now the challenge was to pick to appropriate liquid refreshment.A few of the dishes I was going to eat were fatty, so I thought a more modern style with alcohol added and a longer finish would be nice.  A few spicy dishes were on my menu, so a touch of sweetness in the sake would be lovely.  After quite a lengthy selection process (much like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars) I chose Hideyoshi Namachozo Honjozo-Shu.  Honjozo, being one of the 5 main classifications of Sake (Seishu), is distinguished by its 30% milling of the rice (seimaibuai ) and the addition of a small amount of neutral rice spirit which brings the alcohol content to about 15%.

This style of sake, in which alcohol is added after fermentation, was developed during WWII, when Japan experienced an extreme rice shortage.  The addition of alcohol to stretch the sake supply was actually mandated by the government.  A lot of purists frown upon these styles, however there are some excellent sake being produced in these styles.  In a lot of cases the added alcohol actually sharpens the natural taste of the rice and the koji (mold used in addition to yeast in sake fermentation).  This Honjozo has some really savory hints of oyster mushroom, and simultaneously on the opposite spectrum, the sweetness of ripe honeydew melon.

There are two interesting tasting notes with sake that are much different than with wine. First, never swirl sake because it is thought to disrupt the subtle aromas left behind from the rice. Aerate the wine only through retro nasal aeration once on your palate. Second, when tasting sake, you are tasting for the balance of alkalinity, whereas in wine you are tasting for the balance in acidity.  Enjoying sake lives in a category all its own.  Its delicate nuisances, mouthfeel, and general alcohol content compare to wine, but it is actually brewed much like beer, and the manipulation of the rice kernel is paramount to the final product, much like the grains used to brew beer.  It is one of the reasons sake is so fascinating yet mysterious to me.

One of the dishes that I felt really sang with the sake was the Hamakama, otherwise known as Hamachi (Yellowtail) Collar and one of my favorite fish preparations in the universe.  The collar is roasted and served with fresh citrus, soy, and Hello Kitty tears.  After you get all the easy to reach morsels of meat with your chopsticks, you must then abandon all etiquette and get your fingers all up in there and get every last scrap of meat tucked away between cartilage and fins.  It is worth every embarrassing greasy fingered moment.  I loved that as each cook walked by and saw that I had the collar they all gave me the approving nod, like “that’s what I’m talking about!”

Next time you are at your favorite sushi joint (or at ROW 14) ask them if they have any yellowtail collars they can cook you up and you will find yourself in a new class in their eyes.  You will be one of them and they will probably invite you into their secret underground gambling ring where you can bet your eternal soul for a vile of Dragon’s Breath or a Jade medallion with a couple drops of water from the fountain of youth (that’s why all the oldest people in the world are Asian).

The moral of the story this week is that you never know when a beer can lead you to a path of enlightenment and the Denver Off The Wagon reader’s need to drink more sake because Asians always got some crazy mystical magical stuff going on and sake could get you one step closer to some of it rubbing off on you.  Just watch Big Trouble in Little China or The Golden Child and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Quite a week in the life of THE LIQUID DIET…what will this week hold in store…stay tuned!

About Jensen Cummings

Jensen Cummings (@JensenDCummings) is the Executive Chef at Row 14 in downtown Denver. He calls his food "Pangean Cuisine" and his teaching style "Fortune Cookie Philosophy" so you know he's a little off his rocker! His side passion project is to collaborate with brewers on chef/food inspired beers meant to be paired with high end cuisine. Jensen is an avid beer collector, student of spirits, soon to be Certified Cicerone and a sommelier in training. Basically, he is just really into adult beverages and super geeky!