A creative take on Japanese cuisine at Petaluma’s Sake 107
Japanese cuisine is more than simply tempura and sushi. Japan has a deep and diverse culinary heritage, yet its? cuisine can seem a bit mysterious, even to well-educated West Coaster.
Chef Eiji Ando of Sake 107 hopes to change this by introducing Petaluma to his home cuisine, not only through his treatment of items we have all heard of and tried, such as miso soup, tempura and sushi, but also through his care in preparation of a diverse set of menu items. These include everything from fish to steak, soups to salads, along with great sushi, sashimi, nigari and tempura. As an added bonus, Sake 107 offers roughly two dozen sakes to pair with the food.
I was skeptical when I first learned that another Japanese restaurant was going into the space formerly inhabited by Hiro’s at 107 Petaluma Boulevard North. Hiro’s used to be the best in town, but that was back before sushi joints were common place.
Over time, as fresh sushi fish became more accessible, Hiro’s high prices simply did not make up for its marginally better food. So, although many were excited about Sake 107’s impending opening, I reserved judgment until I heard from several readers. They informed me their experiences were one of kind and suggested we give Sake 107 a try.
On a recent Friday evening, my food crew and I took a couple tables along one wall, and settled in for our first Sake 107 adventure. What we would end up experiencing was a culinary tour that transcended sushi and tempura, giving us a much broader education on the diversity of Japanese cuisine.
Sake 107’s name pays homage to its address along Petaluma Boulevard, as well as its large array of sakes, so we started there. Our server, Josh Torres, did an excellent job of not only making us feel welcome, but also encouraged us to ask him anything, no matter how silly we might have felt once we realized just how little we knew about Japanese food and drink.
This education would start with the sake, Japanese wine made from fermented rice. Sake is stronger than beer or wine at around 18 to 20 percent alcohol.
This high alcohol content helps explain why many of the sakes one finds at American sushi joints have a harsh alcohol flavor and aroma. However, as Josh would explain, high quality sakes will not have this burn. We would learn shortly that good sake is actually quite drinkable, and that as we tasted through half a dozen sakes, different ones paired excellently with different dishes.
Chef Ando plans to put together a sake sampler, but for the time being, we created one for ourselves. The excellent wait staff will make sure you find a sake to your liking, even if that requires a few tasters.
Helping guide our decision, server Josh told us that the minus numbers on the sake menu indicated sweeter sakes, while the pluses would be drier. With everyone at the table interested in learning, we ordered six sakes, ranging from the sweet Miyasaka (-4) to the mild Denshu (+1.3) to the dry Otokoyama (+10.) I expected to dislike the dry sakes, being more of a fan of sweet wines, but found every sake to be pleasantly palatable, with a distinct lack of the harsh alcohol tones that have had me avoiding sake. We also enjoyed several glasses of Koshihikari, a crisp, light, malty Japanese beer that went great with everything.
After crunching through an order of freshly steamed edamame, the miso soup arrived, and this is when we realized Sake 107 is different. Chef Ando’s miso is unlike anything we had sipped before, and was the first stop on our culinary journey of the chef’s homeland.
Chef Ando grew up in the Aichi Prefecture, which sits on Japan’s east coast between Tokyo and Osaka, and has its own distinct culinary style.
As a child in Aichi, Ando would watch American TV and movies. He especially loved George Lucas’s classic American Graffiti, several scenes of which were filmed right outside the front door of Sake 107. He would eventually move to Tokyo at the age of 18 in order to immerse himself in the Americaphile culture that flourished in the big city.
“There was a great 1950s American scene there,” says Ando. “I loved the music, the vintage cars and motorcycles, and everything that had to do with America.”
Ando got his start in restaurants for the very simple reason that he was hungry. “As an 18-year-old, I was always hungry,” says Ando. “I figured out quickly that if I worked at a restaurant, I’d never be hungry.”
It is a wonder that Chef Ando is as slim as he is, because his menu is divine, and one I would devour in its entirety every night, if given the chance.
While in Tokyo, Ando worked as a waiter and bar back, as well as at a noodle place, before joining a friend in San Francisco in 1999, living out his childhood dream of visiting the United States.