10 Things I Learned From Master Sake Sommelier Yuji Matsumoto

— by Caroline on Crack

Sake Sommelier Yuji Matsumoto

Sake Sommelier Yuji Matsumoto

I was scarred by Tokyo Delve‘s so admittedly wasn’t all that thrilled about doing sake and sushi at a Hollywood Japanese chain restaurant. Little did I know that it wasn’t to be an evening of sake bombs, too-sweet teriyaki and the chicken dance. Rather, an upscale evening with great quality food and the only master sake sommelier in North America, Yuji Matsumoto.

Yup, blogger H.C. and I were given our very own private lesson on the finer points of sake at Kabuki Hollywood, a sushi restaurant located next door to Ivan Kane’s Cafe Was on Vine Street. There, Yuji Matsumoto guided us through different types of sake and how to pair them with food, ranging from tempura vegetables to specialty rolls.

Here are just some of the things I learned from this very knowledgeable boozer.

  1. Sake, like wine, can be paired with food, thanks to Yuji-san’s handy-dandy patented sake food pairing chart. He actually had to taste over 800 sake to develop this chart. I know, violins.
  • Spring type: Citrus-floral flavors and light to medium body that pairs with lighter fare like white fish, oyster and shell fish
  • Summer type: Floral-fruity flavors and more medium to full body that pairs with tempura, sashimi and grilled fish
  • Fall type: Fruity-sour flavors and medium to more full body that pairs with chicken, stew and marinated fish
  • Winter type: Sour-aged flavors and full body that pairs with rich foods like beef, cheese, lamb and pork
  1. At Kabuki, they have an array of sake-based cocktails. I assumed that the sake sommelier would look upon this with disdain but he said that sake cocktails are a great way to introduce the uninitiated to sake and that the cocktails were actually created to showcase the sake flavors. The Tokyo Mojito, made with both shochu (“Asian vodka”) and sake and available in a variety of flavors, is his favorite.

  2. The term “sake” is actually a generic word for alcohol, and is used for the rice wine outside of Japan. The correct word is “nihonshu.”

  3. Drinking sake warm is not only better for your health but a great way to get instantly drunk.

  4. It’s a misconception to serve bad sake hot to mask the flavor. Yuji-san says you should chill it.

  5. Despite what teetotalers say, sake has many health benefits, including preventing cancer and cirrhosis because of its amino acids, preventing senility because of peptide which is effective in preventing forgetfulness and preventing osteoprosis in women as sake is found to increase hormones in women when drunk in moderation (three to six glasses a week).

  6. Opt to enjoy sake in a wine glass as it allows its fragrance to blossom fully.

  7. Best places to buy good sake in Los Angeles are Marukai Supermarket and Mitsuwa Market Place as they know how to store sake. Yuji-san also lists Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and Trader Joe’s as options but didn’t seem as enthused about them as the first two.

  8. Always buy sake chilled.

  9. And since I’m not a big sake drinker, I had no idea it had about as much alcohol as wine. I know, I know duh.

BTW, Kabuki Hollywood has a specialty cocktail menu that basically consists of saketinis and chu-his (shochu with fruit flavors) as well as tropical “classic cocktails” like Mai Tai and Chi Chi. Yeah. Eh. But the night H.C. and I went, Yuji-san had to leave our table to meet up with none other than cocktail consultants Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson of Top Notch Beverage Consulting. Could that mean Kabuki will get a cocktail revamping? Fingers crossed!

Kabuki Hollywood
1545 Vine Street
Los Angeles, California 90028 (map)
(323) 464-6003
Yuji’s Twitter: @SakeRonin