(2 of 2)
As restaurants revamp their sake lists for increasingly refined palates, it is clear that demand for premium sake goes well beyond Asian food. "Sake has the ability to be molded to what you want--to adapt to the flavor of the dish," says Tanguay. "You can't do that with wine." Haute-cuisine restaurants--from New York's Per Se to Chicago's Charlie Trotter's to Rubicon in San Francisco--are increasingly looking to sake pairings to satiate--and educate--diners. This fall, in the custard-colored dining room of Chanterelle, an icon of French cuisine in Manhattan, the restaurant held its ninth annual sake-pairing dinner. The chandeliered room flowed with Japanese syllables as master sommelier Roger Dagorn led the pouring of a different sake with each of the nine courses. At the main table sat the sake master of the Japan Prestige Sake Association, Kazu Yamazaki, a premier importer in the U.S. and probably the first to introduce aged sake to Americans and to teach about sake varieties. He says that while drinking sake in restaurants is common, the real accomplishment is that imports have allowed people to drink sake at home. "To us, that's the way sake should be," Yamazaki says.
Chris Pearce, owner, importer and distributor of World Sake Imports, says the growth of imports is no tsunami, but it is encouraging. "At the corporate level, they're staying away from sake because it's too much work," he says. "My basic rule with anything that has to do with sake is that it takes 2 1⁄2 times as much effort because the educational element is unknown." Pearce is very much a purist: "You can't go into sake with a wine background and understand it. You have to understand it on its own." But, he adds, "it's exactly like wine, in that people will turn on to better ones." That should keep importers--and the Shinto gods--happy for years to come.