Japanese cuisine is more than simply tempura and sushi. Just as Italian cuisine is more than lasagna, French more than Duck a l’Orange, Spanish more than paella and chorizo, and German more than just beers and brats, the island nation of Japan has a deep and diverse culinary heritage. Stereotypical national dishes are excellent in their own right, even when Americanized, but can lose some of their Old World intrigue and authenticity when rounded out in order to please the lowest common denominator. However, unlike European nations, which many of us have visited and many more claim as our ancestral homes, Japan, its heritage, and its cuisine can seem a bit mysterious, even to well-educated West Coaster.
Chef Eiji Ando 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 their food.
I was skeptical when I first learned that another Japanese restaurant was going into the space formerly inhabited by Hiro’s. 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 judgement until I finally 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 expedition that transcended sushi and tempura, giving us a much broader education on the wonderful food options available through Japanese cuisine.
Sake 107’s name pays homage to its address along Petaluma Blvd, 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, which is a Japanese wine made from fermented rice. Although called wine, sake derives its alcohol from the fermentation of sugars that are converted from rice starch, much the same way beer’s alcohol comes from the sugars that are converted from the starches in grain. But, unlike beer, which is created in a two-step process, sake’s conversion of starch to sugar and then to alcohol occurs in one simultaneous step. Sake is also stronger than both beer and wine, coming in around 18-20% 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.