The first time I drank sake at a non-Japanese restaurant was nearly seven years ago at Coi, a Michelin-starred establishment in San Francisco that serves modern Californian cuisine. I had opted for the beverage-pairing course, and the drink came with a dish of tofu mousseline in a thickened mushroom broth laced with kelp and bonito flakes. The combination made perfect sense: the sake played off the Japanese-inspired ingredients in sensory and conceptual harmony.
Since then, I've encountered sake in a variety of culinary contexts all over the world. The drink's umami-enhancing properties make it a wonderfully flexible complement and forward-thinking sommeliers have been looking beyond its obvious suitability for Japanese flavors. The brew works just as well with the creative Spanish food at Bam, a gastrobar in Singapore, as it does at the Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Maido in Lima. Sake also brings out the best in a delicate dish of prawn tartare and caviar served in a chilled broth of winter melon at three-Michelin-starred Benu in San Francisco.
Ironically, the concept of matching sake with non-Japanese cuisine has yet to take off in Japan, but things appear to be changing as Tokyo's French restaurants follow in the footsteps of sake-pairing pioneers such as Narisawa and L'effervescence. Last year, Tirpse showcased sake in a yearlong series of lunch menus composed entirely of desserts. More recently, Florilege and Liberte a Table de Takeda have started including sake in their beverage pairings.