Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Lesson in Sake Tasting and Food Pairing at Minami


1118 Mainland Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 2T9

(604) 685-8080

Rating (based on previous visits to Minami and Sake dinner):

Tastiness Factor: 4.5/5

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore approved? YES (mostly local fish, part of the "Oceanwise" program, use local produce when possible)


Although I have no hard evidence to back this statement up, I am sure that my husband must be among the biggest Miku fans in Vancouver.  Miku, a downtown restaurant which is a favorite among those in the corporate folk in the business district, specializes in aburi sushi.  Minami, which opened just 3 months ago, is Miku's sister restaurant.  It is found in the trendy Yaletown district, and is slightly more upscale and refined.  

Aburi sushi, the speciatly at both Miku and Minami, is a unique type of sushi that is flame-seared to bring out the natural flavours of the fish.  It is not served with the typical soy sauce and wasabi on the side, but instead is served with creative sauces such as cod roe mayo and basil cream.  No california rolls to be found!

My husband and I went to Minami for the first time (OK, my first time, his 4th or 5th at least) and I was very impressed.  While there, we were given a brochure for their Dassai Sake Dinner, a 5 course dinner prepared by Minami's execitive chef Matsuoka and his team, and paired with sake from Japan's Dassai Shuzo's brewery.  My husband was immediately sold. I was a bit skeptical at first, not because of the food (our meal at Minami that evening was superb) but because I had only had sake once in my life and, for the money ($120/person), I was not sure if I would be able to truly appreciate Japan's signature beverage.  But my husband really had his heart set on it and I was not going to put up too much of a fight- who in their right mind would turn down the opportunity to have a piece of Miku's/Minami's famous Salmon Oshi?

The Sake dinner was held in Minami's Blue Ocean Room, their private dining room in its own space right next to Minami.  It holds a large, rustic communal table, sitting up to 40 people.  Its decor has a definate Japanese influence, with a bold mural of crustaceons completely covering one of its walls.  With every chair at the table was taken, it was cozy but comfortable and the servers were able to maneuver around without difficulty.  It was the perfect space for the event- intimate yet sophisticated.

While all of the guests were arriving, we were served a refreshing pear spritzer, perfect for to bring back the memories of summer. When everyone was settled in, we met the hostess of the evening, Miki Ellis, who is Minami's in house Sake specialist.  She introduced us to Mr. Sakurai, Dassai's brewery principle, who had travelled all of the way from Japan for the dinner.  Also present were representatives from Bluenotes Wine and Spirits.  Throughout the whole evening, they were very gracious hosts and kept us well entertained for the 3 and 1/2 hour dinner.  They were happy to answer all of our questions, either in a group format, or as they walked around the room to personally chat with everyone between courses.  The Dassai brewery is among the best sake breweries in Japan, and it felt pretty special to get my first sake lesson from such a sake master.

There was a different sake paired with each of the savory courses (5 in total).  By the end of the evening, I had certainly become a sake convert.  The first sake, a sparkling variety brought over from Japan by Mr. Sakuri, cannot be found anywhere in Canada so this was a very special treat.  It had fruity undertones that gave it a lovely sweetness and lightness.  We then had the chance to try Dassai's most cherished sake, Dassai 23, which was smoother than anything I have ever tasted before.  Wow.  As the Blunotes rep put it, it is like "angels dancing around in your mouth".  You can get the Dassi 23 at Minami's bar, and I highly recommend you do- what an unbelievable taste experience.  Their less pure varieties, Dassai 39 and 50, were also delicious and were able to hold up nicely to the heavier courses.  My only regret is that it has taken me so long to get on the sake bandwagon!

Dassai Sparkling Nigori- not found anywhere else in Canada!: 

Dassai 23- the very best of Dassai offerings:



Now let's move onto the food.  There were 5 courses plus dessert, to pair with the 5 different wines.  The names and descriptions come straight from the pre-printed menus that were found at our seats (I brought mine home for a souvenir!).  Here is the rundown:

Course 1- Oyster, Dassai sparkling Nigori foam:

Lets start by saying that I have never been an oyster fan- I think it is a texture thing.  But, just like the sake, I think I may be an oyster convert too after trying this version!  I loved how they used the Nigori sake (which was paired with this dish) and turned it into a lovely foam for their version of oysters and champagne.  They also used some diced pickled cucumber to give it more texture. A beautiful way to start (and local to boot!).

Course 2- Hokkaido scallop carpaccio, meyer lemon olive oil sauce, cucumber, celery, daikon, fresh orange, avocado sauce:

This was one of the star dishes in my opinion.  The scallops were sliced thicker than what you would normally expect from a carpaccio but this gave them a beatiful, buttery texture and suited the dish wonderfully.  The other elements on the dish were quite mild so as not to take away from the delectable scallops or the smoothness of the Dassai 23.  There was a dab of creamy avocado sauce (also found on Minami's Pacific Roll) that was to die for.  Really an amazing dish, perfect as we say goodbye to summer.



Course 3- Roasted sablefish wrapped with shrimp, spinach and asparagus shimeji and yuzu-dashi broth:

I LOVE sablefish so was so excited to see it on the menu.  Chef Matsuoka's version was buttery on the inside with a semi-crispy skin (wish it could have been slightly crispier!) on the outside.  Stuffed inside was a piece of shrimp, flavorful spianch and sliced asparagus.  It was laid atop an amazing light broth (would have liked a spoon to eat it all up!) and a few small mushrooms for added texture. The presentation was simple and elegant.   

Coure 4- 5-hour roasted prime rib.  Soy-glazed wild mushroom duxelle sauce.  Yukon potato fondant, king oyster mushroom, brussel sprout chips, heirloom carrot.

For me: Creamy polenta, fried brussel sprouts, pickled carrots and spinach.

Let me begin by saying that I REALLY appreciated Chef Matsuoka's willingness to prepare me a meatless dish on a moment's notice.  I usually call ahead and inform the restaurant of my "pescatarianism" but I forgot this time.  When I saw the prime rib, I inquired about an alternative version and Chef Matsuoka was able to prepare me a delicious vegetarian dish on a moment's notice.  A chef who can make magic with vegetable on the fly is truly a culinary master.  The brussel sprouts were crispy and salty (these are not your mom's steamed sprouts, I can guarantee you!) and the polenta was creamy yet light and airy.  The carrots gave the plate a nice bit of added color.  Thanks again so much for being so accomodating!

As for my husband's prime rib, this was by far his least favorite.  The beef was quite fatty and the veg was laid on top in big chunks that made the presentation a bit lacking overall.  The beef did pair nicely, however, with the Dassai 50, which is much bolder and punkier than its brother, Dassai 23. It also showed some progression into fall (it is September after all!), after the first few lighter and summerier courses.

Course 5- Chef's selection of Aburi sushi:

Sushi is really the star at Miku and Minami.  For lunch, my husband often gets the Premium Select at Miku, which is a selection of their prized aburi sushi and some of their unique rolls.  If you haven't already, you must go try them for yourself.  The searing really brings out the natural flavours of the fish and gives a lovely, buttery texture.  Their signature aburi, the Salmon Oshi (in the middle on the plate below) consists of flame-seared local salmon, miku sauce and a thinly sliced jalapeno, which went beautifully with the Dassai 50 Nigori.  No meal at Minami would be complete without sushi!

Dessert: Green tea opera with raspberry sorbet:

Simple and beautiful.  A small bite of sweetness to end the meal.  It paired nicely with the Dassi 50 Nigori from the last course.  Very elegant presentation.

And lastly- My prize!  

I won this soap, made from the leftover milling material produced in the sake-making process at Dassai, by battling Mr. Sakurai in a game of Papers, Scissors, Rocks!  One of the fun little interludes of the evening, and and left home with a gift straight from Japan!


This first Sake dinner put on by Minami was a real success.  It was evident that everyone really enjoyed the evening and the food and sake was outstanding.  Minami is planning on putting on another sake dinner on Thursday, October 4th so please contact them if you are interested- you will not be dissapointed!  And even if you cannot make it to a sake dinner, just head down to Minami to sample some of their delectable offerings- the aburi sushi is such a treat for the tastebuds!  

A big thanks again to all those that contributed to last night's Dassai Sake Dinner- we cannot wait to come back as repeat guests!

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