Top Pair: Sake Pairs with a World of Flavors

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 33
February 2013   
Anytime a plate delivers a mash-up of cultures and cuisines, sommeliers have both the challenge of pairing outside a cultural context and the opportunity to excel and break boundaries. At San Francisco's Benu, Eastern ingredients and Western technique meld in friendly, refined style. And Sommelier Bobby Conroy's pairing philosophy is to complement Chef Corey Lee's dishes and support his philosophy and vision for each dish.
  • Benu
  • 22 Hawthorne St
  • San Francisco, CA 94105
  • (415) 685-4860
Sommelier Bobby Conroy

A Washington, D.C., native, Bobby Conroy has enjoyed a career in fine dining for more than 10 years. He began his sommelier career in 2009, passing his Introductory Exam with The Court of Master Sommeliers and then opening Jean Georges J & G Steakhouse at the W Hotel in Washington, D.C. Leaving Jean Georges in 2010, Conroy became restaurant manager and assistant sommelier at Plume Restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel, helping the restaurant earn a Mobil Four Star and AAA Four Diamond rating in its second year of operation. He left Plume in June 2011 to join Master Sommelier Yoon Ha at Corey Lee’s Benu in San Francisco.

Kitaya, Kansansui, "Cold Mountain Water," Junmai Daiginjo, Fukuoka, Japan
Tarte Flambée, Sea Urchin, and Green Apple
Pairing Note
In the hands of Chef Corey Lee, the traditional Alsatian Tarte Flambée takes on new life and complexity with sea urchin and green apple parisiennes. Traditional fromage blanc is notched up with gruyère and parmesan, “Frenchified” with little bacon lardons, and balanced with bitter and tart chickweed and pickled red onion. The sophisticated flavors take form as pizza-esque toppings, and the fun factor gets a boost from crunchy apple and melted cheese. The delicate uni flavor, though, remains the focus, and the cheese and apple support its sea flavor.

Building on the contrasts in the tarte, Conroy pairs the dish with Kitaya’s Kansansui, or Cold Mountain Water, sake. The sake is a premium free-run rice wine (made from rice polished—or refined—to 50 percent of its original size) from Fukuoka in southwest Japan. Luxurious, delicate, and refreshing, the sake is still rich in umami and fruit flavors, harmonizing the sweet undertones with the raw seafood. Notes of Asian pear, persimmon, and cantaloupe match the apple, onion, and uni, and savory notes in the dish shine from the delicate, starch-like quality of this style of sake. Conroy further explains, “The last component the sake must take on is the richness the dish provides from the fromage blanc, parmesan, gruyère and bacon. The Kansansui has the ability to address [these qualities] because of its mouthfeel and elegant starchy character.”

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