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TOKYO (Reuters) - Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, the owner of Narisawa, serves sake with his dishes because he believes the finest local ingredients go well with the local alcoholic drink.
Narisawa, ranked among the top restaurants in the world and considered Tokyo's finest French eatery, serves more than 60 types of sake with the dishes on its menu.
Dishes for an early spring include Akazaebi, or langoustine shrimp, with various green peas and petals of rucola flowers and viola. Tempura of butterbur buds and udo, a wild spring green, are added for bitterness.
The dish has five flavors, saltiness, sweetness, acidity and umami, which comes from the essence of konbu, or kelp. Tomato essence adds umami as well as acidity.
Narisawa's sommelier director, Yoshinobu Kimura, pairs the dish with junmai daiginjo sake, which has a crisp and refreshing flavor to match the lactic acid in the shrimp. The sake helps to prolong the aftertaste of the dish.
Q: Why do you serve sake at your restaurants?
A: Because we are in Japan and almost all the ingredients we use, except chocolate, coffee and peppers, are all from Japan ... Ingredients go the best with alcoholic beverages that are from the same areas.
Although sake is popular overseas, it's not properly taken care of, just like when the Japanese people started drinking wine. There is little attention to quality control, and prices for sake are inconsistent. I have pride in myself that I am running a restaurant that represents Japan, so I want my customers to try quality sake in the right way.
Q: How do you source your ingredients?
A: I use ingredients which are the best at a certain time. That means I adjust myself to what farms can provide us. I don't ask them to produce what I want. I do not go to Tsukiji market. I buy ingredients directly from local farmers and fishermen, and I visit local cities almost every week.
Q: How can sake be superior to wine?
A: I am not sure how sake can be superior to wine, but I would say sake pairs with Japanese meals the best. It's a matter of compatibility.
Q: How do you choose sake?
A: Basically I choose breweries that are doing the right things. By that I mean that they do not use pesticide growing rice for sake, for example. Not only sake, I choose condiments with that standard.
Editing by Patricia Reaney and Ted Botha