On July 13 The Gohan Society and Kampai.US hosted a shochu pairing at Bara restaurant in New York City to introduce the various ways to enjoy the distilled spirit of Japan with foods influenced by Japanese ingredients. The event featured five courses from Bara Executive Chef Ian Alvarez and five shochu pairings selected by shochu specialist Stephen Lyman, who runs Kampai.US, a comprehensive English-language guide to shochu.
The event was the first in a series of four seasonal tastings presented by Kampai.US and The Gohan Society to introduce one of Japan’s favorite beverages to New Yorkers who are more familiar with sake. Shochu is popular in Japan with young Japanese people because the distilled beverage contains less sugar and has fewer calories than other types of alcohol. In recent years there’s been a mini-boom for shochu here in New York City, thanks in part to people like Lyman and Japanese distributors who are pushing to widen the beverage’s market.
Unlike sake, which is brewed, shochu is distilled and is most often compared to vodka. It has a 500-year history in Japan, originating in Kyushu in the Western part of the country where sweet potatoes are grown. Sweet potato (imo) is but one flavor of shochu; barley (mugi), rice (kome), black sugar (kokuto), and buckwheat (soba) are other popular kinds.
Chef Alvarez, formerly of Momofuku, fuses Japanese and French flavors at Bara, which opened at the end of last year. In planning the menu for this event, he included a few dishes he serves regularly, but he also prepared a few first-time items as well. Lyman described each shochu as it was served with each course and gave a tutorial on how to enjoy his choices, which are all available in New York, long after the event is over.
For this event Bara put the tables together for an izakaya-style evening of sharing tasting plates and sipping shochu.
Montauk Pearl Oysters (with water kimchi mignonette)
Tori Kai and soda – Ginjo Kome from Tori Kai Shuzo, Kumamoto
Heirloom Tomato and Stone Fruit (with wakame, ponzu gelee, furikake)
Ginrei Shiro Cocktail (with spearmint, shiso, coconut water, and lime) – Kome from Takahashi Shuzo, Kumamoto
Lamb Tartare (with pistou, cured egg yolk, Banyuls wine, sunflower greens, semolina cracker)
Yaeyama Seifuku (with ice and water) – Awamori from Seifuku Shuzo, Okinawa
Black Bass (with ginger tare glaze and togarashi cucumbers)
Flat Iron Steak (with bok choy and Worcestershire)
Grilled Summer Vegetables (with chermoula)
Ikkomon (with ice and water) – Imo Honkaku from Komaki Shuzo, Kagoshima
White miso panna cotta (with peach jam)
Mugon (with ice and water) – Kome Honkaku (aged ten years) from Sengetsu Shuzo, Kumamoto