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A Japanese-Inspired Sommelier Deathmatch

FINALLY! I’ve been trying to share the details of my latest dinner party all week, but it’s been crazy around here. You’d think after classes end, I’d be a bit less swamped but nope. I got myself involved in too many projects at work, and they are all coming to a head right now.

Anyway, who wants to talk about work when we can talk about food?! For this month’s dinner party menu, I took inspiration from Japanese flavors or, at least, what I think of when I think Japanese. After a little bit of research, I settled on this:

Cocktail: Japanese Slipper 
Appetizer: Tsukune (Chicken Meatballs with Tare Sauce) 
Salad:  Layered Sunomono Salad 
Main:  Shichimi Seared Ahi Tuna With Wasabi Avocado Pea Puree and Seasoned Rice
Dessert:  Black Sesame Plum Cake with Matcha Cream

This was another Sommelier Deathmatch, so each couple was tasked with getting recommendations from their local Sommelier, and then we voted on our favorite pairings for each course.

I was intrigued to see what they would come up with because I don’t generally think of wine with Japanese flavors.

Cocktail: Japanese Slipper 

The Japanese Slinger is a simple but tasty cocktail almost reminiscent of a sweet/tart green jolly rancher. It’s equal parts melon liquor, triple sec, and lemon juice. I served it with some edamame, rice crackers, and snacking seaweed while we prepared the rest of the meal.

In addition to the cocktail, I decided to surprise everyone and make a sipping broth like they do at hibachi restaurants. I basically followed this recipe from A Spicy Perspective but halved it. It came out better than I ever anticipated.

It resulted in the tasty broth I’ve ever made and I will be making it again, no doubt.

Appetizer: Tsukune (Chicken Meatballs with Tare Sauce) 

I honestly don’t know how I found out about Tsukune, I think it just came up in my searches for Japanese appetizers, but if you do a quick google search for them, you’ll be presented with a bunch of recipes.

I looked at many of them, took some notes on the most popular ingredients, and then made my own version. I could not have been happier with how they came out. They were simple yet tasty, and that tare sauce was to die for!

Both Sommeliers went with a rosé for this first pairing, but one was sparkling.

Sommelier #1 selection: Arthur Metz Cremant D’Alsace Rose

Sommelier #2 selection: 2021 A to Z Wineworks Rosé

As usual, both wines went well with the dish. The light crispness of rosé cut through that sweet sauce perfectly. I thought the bubbles added another dimension, cleansing my palate after each bite. However, I was outvoted, and rightfully sow the A to Z Rose was a fabulous choice and won the round with a 3-1 vote.

Result: 3-1 Sommelier #2’s selection of 2021 A to Z Wineworks Rosé

Salad:  Layered Sunomono Salad 

I’ve seen Sunomono salads before, and I always thought it was just a Japanese cucumber salad. Now I know Sunomono means “vinegared things,” so I decided to take the idea and layer three different vegetables–asparagus, carrot, and cucumbers. By cutting each vegetable differently, I took a simple salad and made it a bit more “extra” as we like to say. Everyone loved it, and I was delighted with how it came out.

Again, the sommeliers both chose a white, but again, we had one sparkling, and that one not only took the round but it also won “wine of the night”–a new category we decided to add because we liked this one that much! Its light fruitiness went perfectly with the salad.

Sommelier #1 selection: 2012 Louis Bouillot Perle De Vigne Brut (Wine of the night)

Sommelier #2 selection: Alsace Willm – Gewurztraminer – Reserve 2019

Result: 3-1 Sommelier #1’s selection of Louis Bouillot Perle De Vigne Brut

Main:  Shichimi Seared Ahi Tuna With Wasabi Avocado Pea Puree and Seasoned Rice

I am so proud of this dish! The puree, tuna, and rice together were just the perfect bite.

And judging by the plates alone, I think everyone agreed!

I coated the tuna in a store-bought Shichimi spice mix, and I’m now obsessed. If you can find this stuff, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s spicy, citrusy, and earthy. It was great with the tuna, but I can’t wait to try it on chicken next.

The puree has just enough wasabi that didn’t overpower the dish, but its presence paired with the creamy avocado and bright peas was almost luxurious and indulgent.

Finally, the rice was a sneaky addition that added texture and even more flavor. I seasoned it with mirin and a Yuzu Furikake, and it helped bring all the flavors together even more.

The sommeliers again delivered two outstanding wines that it was hard to pick a winner.

Sommelier #1 selection: Donnachiara Greco Di Tufo Aletheia

Sommelier #2 selection: Frisk Prickly Riesling

I’m going to be real honest here. I can’t remember the details of why I picked one over the other. I’m going to blame time and the amount of wine I already had by this point of the evening. Regardless, I did note the winner, and it was the Frisk Prickly Riesling, which I think may have been the least expensive wine of the night!

Result: 3-1 Sommelier #2’s selection of Frisk Prickly Riesling

Dessert:  Black Sesame Plum Cake with Matcha Cream

For dessert, I decided to make this Black Sesame Seed Cake I found on Food52. It sounded intriguing, and the flavors went great with my menu. I was considering some homemade ice cream to go alongside but settled on a simple whipped cream flavored with matcha and it went perfectly.

Everyone didn’t love the cake, but I enjoyed it! It had a fun, not too sweet taste and a great texture. We served it along with warm saki as recommended by Sommelier #1, and again it wasn’t loved by all. I, however, enjoyed the saki much more than I thought I would!

As always, it was a great night with great company. I have so much fun putting together and executing these menus, and I feel blessed to have friends that share my passion.

Oh! And I have to thank Morgan at Total Wine and the Crew at Pairings for helping us with the fantastic wine selections! I’m so happy we found sommeliers who are willing to devote their time and knowledge to help us make these nights so special.

Click here to see other Sommelier Deathmatches.

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