Kenichi Austin Sake Dinner

It’s a good time for Japanese food lovers in Austin. No matter where you live in the capital of Texas, there’s bound to be a Sushi restaurant nearby – especially downtown. Of course, not all Japanese restaurants are created equal, but for a medium sized city, Austin has it’s fair share of high end sushi.

Recently, the TastingBuds were invited to a sake tasting dinner at the well known and respected Kenichi on 5th and Congress. The reason for the celebration? The Austin branch of Kenichi has a new sake sommielier and they wanted to highlight the their vast sake selection and their ability to pair each type of sake with their creative and delicious food offerings.

Before the first course, the fine folks at Kenichi started us off with a very nice shiso infused mojito. Shiso, for those not familiar with the herb is quite popular in Japanese cuisine. The flavor, depending on variety can range from oregano to basil or even mint. The slightly basil mint flavor of the drink was a welcome change from the standard mojito, but it might not be for everyone.

The first course served was Red Snapper Salad with pine nuts, orange sauce, shishito peppers and sunflower sprouts, paired with Gekkeikan Horin junmai Daiginjo. The dish was light and the orange complimented the Red Snapper well. The sake was light, sweet and paired with the snapper well.

Next up were seared Sea Scallops with yuzu, candied ginger, and peanut butter miso paired with Soaring Cloud Junmai Dai Ginjo Sho. Peanut butter miso? Can they do that? Yes they can – it was quite unique and tasty.

Then we had Sansho pepper Escolar in a truffle sauce with sauteed portabella mushrooms paired with Tozai “Voices in the Mist” Ginjo Nigori. Many of my fellow bloggers thought that this was the best dish of the night. The escolar had a good, meaty flavor and paired nicely with the mushrooms. The mushrooms were slightly overpowering to my palate but others loved everything about the combination.

Next was Tuna and Miso Fois Gras with pear, grispy garlic, and truffled ponzu paired with “Kariho Namahage “Devil’s Mask” Junmai Yamahai. This was one of the highlights of the meal… how good you may ask?

One week later and I haven’t been able to shut up about the tuna and foie gras pairing – something about the meeting of the rich yet slightly subtle foie gras and the light but still flavorful tuna had me yapping about it with everyone.

I also thought the Devil’s Mask sake was the best of the bunch of sakes we sampled – definitely try this out if you get the chance.

The following dish was Yellowtail belly Temari sushi with orange mustard sauce, scallions, and red shiso from Bella verde farms. This also gets a nomination for the best dish of the night. I really appreciate a very light yet intensely flavorful dish and this temari delivered.

The sake pairing was Kenichi’s own “Tanuki Magic” branded Junmai Daiginjo, which was quite tasty and cool because it’s named after a mythical animal.

Also, shiso might be one of my favorite herbs in the world, and it’s quite hard to find fresh, so bonus points for that.

We then had Japanese traditional akaushi beef, king oyster mushrooms, and a poached quail egg paired with Kanbara “Wings of Fortune” Junmai Ginjo Nama. The akaushi beef is of a grade higher than kobe / waygu beef. Originally only for the Japanese market, there was a temporary loophole that allowed for the export of the cows to America, and now this high grade beef is raised right here in Texas.

Finally we ate green tea Tiramisu with Japanese chestnuts paired with Gekkeikan “Zipang” Sparkling Sake. I do love green tea desserts, and this particular tiramisu was light and tasted amazing.

Also, the “Zipang” sparkling sake it was paired with is a lot better than it sounds, and actually very enjoyable. It had a light yogurty taste to it that was great with the tiramisu.

The sake certainly tied the meal together and it complimented each dish nicely. Kenichi has an impressive and expansive sake list. Many thanks go out to Kenichi’s Level Two sake sommelier, Adam Faraizl. Apparently, there are only a handful of level Two sake sommeliers in the world, so we were lucky to be in such good hands during the meal.

We hope you enjoyed our photos from this amazing meal and we are grateful to Kenichi for allowing us to sample the new menu with the many sake offerings. I had personally never been to Kenichi and was impressed with the service and sophistication of their food. Also, I appreciate the fact that they use local ingredients whenever possible, and they went to great lengths to accommodate our gluten free friends.

If you are looking for a good place in Austin for modern Japanese food expertly paired with different types of sake, definitely give Kenichi a try.