Who knew there are so many varieties of sake? The famous sake house of Kozaemon hosted a successful event where they presented nine of their most popular varieties while Benihana Pattaya staged a culinary abundance of dishes prepared by their talented young chefs. Japan’s national drink has played a central role in Japanese life and culture for the past 2,000 years. It is sometimes referred to as “rice wine” but the brewing process is more similar to beer converting starch to sugar for the fermentation process. Undiluted sake contains 18 to 20 percent ABV (although this is often lowered to 15 percent by adding water prior to bottling).
This rich brewing tradition is probably one reason why the Japanese love their sake so much, so where better to hold this unique sake tasting event than at Benihana, Pattaya’s favourite teppanyaki steakhouse. So it was with much anticipation and enthusiasm that Mick and I headed out to the second floor of the Royal Garden Plaza’s lifestyle mall to enjoy this rare occurrence.
Benihana’s beginnings began with Yunosuke Aoki, a Samurai descendant and entertainer, who along with his wife, Katsu, opened a small coffee shop in Tokyo. The shop was named “Benihana” (red flower in Japanese) after a red safflower that grew in the streets. His eldest son had the idea to combine Japanese food and entertainment andsubsequently the first restaurant opened in New York in 1964 and the Benihana that we know today was born.
Here in Pattaya Benihana is under the auspices of the AVANI Pattaya Resort and Spa. Its reputation is based on their teppanyaki style of cooking: teppan meaning “steel grill” and yaki “broiled”. Their chefs receive 16 weeks of intensive training before the final accolade of a red kerchief is awarded to confirm their proficiency. Interaction between chef and guest is positively encouraged and the culinary cabaret is great fun, natural and bodacious.
Our welcome sake was a Junmai Umeshu Beni Nankoubai or plum liquor which provided an elegant almost sweet-sour sensation for a refreshing curtain raiser to the evening enjoyed with sesame lavash, a thin crunchy Middle Eastern treat together with nori chips and some wasabi nuts. A glass of the most premium sake, Junmai Daiginjo was then served with the pairing of French oysters, larb tuna tartar and hamachi jalapenos which with their fusion characteristics made immediate friends.
A selection of succulent sushi balls, takoyaki (octopus filled wheat balls) and salmon garnished sushi plus California and tamago maki rolls were disappearing at a rapid rate with the next sake, a fragrant Junmai Ginjo Bizen Omachi.
However, the star of this course was sushi frost, soft tender salmon was served on a bed of meringue and then “dry iced” to perfect frostiness. The next offering was another Ginjo #20 Mino-Mizunami which we sipped and slurped with quite a few delicious chicken yakitori sticks liberally drenched in the sweet umami sauce. This course also included a delightful osuimono soup, a light fishy broth fashioned from dashi, water and sake and floated with a sweet poached prawn. The accompanying sake was a smooth Kirinzan which enhanced and complemented all the various flavours.
The finale presented our master chef preparing us garlic fried rice and a teppanyaki premier quality beef. Knives (and eggs) were thrown, flipped, juggled, lobbed and pitched with skill resulting in a delicious bowl of rice and a perfectly grilled piece of beef before his wagon was ceremoniously wheeled to another table. Quite a performance and, from the appreciative ovations and cheers that emanated from the surrounding areas, we were not the only ones enjoying the Benihana magic.
Five more sakes followed (notes getting decidedly less legible now!) but our favourite, and one served warm was a Yamahai Junmai Banshu Yamada-Nishiki. Fermented in the traditional style with a pleasing aroma of nuts, it made an excellent partner with the richer flavours which followed. For instance, the teppanyaki burger, a standout butterfish with a sweet passion fruit sauce and the tenderest hibachi chicken with sesame seeds before concluding with teppanyaki marbled tenderloin and cream cheese accompanied by hibachi rice with garlic. The curtain was sweetly lowered with banana tempura served with ice cream and raspberry plus chocolate sauce.
We had a “funtastic” evening, the food was top-notch, the sakes more than interesting and of course proved the perfect accompaniment to the Japanese cuisine. Benihana Pattaya scores on so many levels having created a totally distinctive ambiance where the preparation of the food is driven by the prowess and skill of its highly trained staff who not only produce the product but entertain, surprise and amuse along the way. It’s a culinary circus, a foodie playground and a piece of gastronomic theatre that hits all the right spots.
Visit their website for full menu and prices.