Daisuke Nakazawa reaches across the counter to place three pieces of tuna before me, leanest to fattiest, left to right. The progression is the apex of the 21-course omakase menu at Nakazawa's Greenwich Village restaurant, and he dresses them simply to bring out the quality of the fish. An instant later, sommelier Garrett Smith appears to pour a half-glass of 2016 Trousseau from Arnot-Roberts, a small California producer.
The wine, light in body but with good acidity, has a ferric quality that matches that of the fish and a touch of berry fruit that brightens the soy, wasabi and Japanese mustard with which Nakazawa dresses the fish. The pairing is unexpected but terrific - and typical of the restaurant's wine program.
Sushi Nakazawa is one of New York's elite sushi restaurants and has a sake list to match, but it also offers an extensive wine selection and a sommelier capable of navigating it. Smith was at the French Laundry and Daniel before coming to Nakazawa two years ago. Dean Fuerth, who succeeded Smith in August, had been at Bouley and Betony. They have to adapt their knowledge of wine to a cuisine with its own flavors and textures in a setting where customers often demand a distinctive experience.
The easy way to do that is to serve Champagne, which because of its effervescence and acidity is a perfect food wine. The acidity is key to balancing oil in many cuts of sushi, Smith says. He had more than 60 of the sparkling wines on his list this summer, and he reeled off Champagnes he would happily drink with Nakazawa's omakase, the only option at the restaurant.
Krug, of course, the very taste of luxury. Vouette & Sorbee's Fidele, a Blanc de Noirs, or wine made entirely from Pinot Noir. Aurelien Suenen's C&C Blanc de Blancs with what Smith calls "perfect ripeness." He visited the producer this spring on a trip to Champagne and compares the vin clair, or still wine from which the sparkling is made, to great white Burgundy.
But most diners view Champagne as a way to start a meal, and in his wine pairing, Smith limits himself to a glass of rose Champagne with the opening flight of three salmon pieces. The second course is a piece of scallop dressed with sake, ume plum and yuzu pepper whose zest has been fermented with chili and a piece of squid with shiso and ume plum. "Salty sweetness spells Riesling to me," Smith said after describing the pieces, and he poured Keller's 2015 Limestone Riesling from Rheinhessen, a taut, energetic wine, on my visit.
White Burgundy also has the versatility to go with a range of raw fish, and there are 40 of them on Nakazawa's list. He pulled out a 2010 Meursault from Patrick Javillier to go with the middle of my meal, a beautiful wine, round, full, perfect with a piece of pressed crabmeat, its top seared and served with a drop of ponzu sauce and crab guts mixed with miso, a salty, funky finishing note.
The challenge, and the fun, of pairing sushi and wine comes with reds, especially those with more body. "I'm trying to make myself uncomfortable constantly," Smith said, by looking for combinations that shouldn't work but do. He mentions a Chateauneuf de Pape from Joseph Sabon that "smelled like rusty nails. But what it did with tuna and uni was amazing; it brought out the sweetness in both."
Smith gained an appreciation for California wines during his time at the French Laundry in Yountville, and he says that even big Cabernet Sauvignon can work with tuna and uni, citing Shafer's Hillside Select Cab as an example. "If you peel through the veneer of tannin and ripeness," in the wine, he says, "it has great structure."
But the first rule of hospitality is knowing your guest, and I like lighter wines, so I get the Arnot-Roberts with my tuna. I also love Sherry, and Smith selects a great one for the final few pieces, a saltwater eel with eel sauce and an egg custard that Nakazawa perfected when he worked for sushi legend Jiro Ono, whose praise for the dish leaves Nakazawa in tears in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The two pieces show different aspects of the Equipo Navazos 41, a Palo Cortado with the brininess and acidity to stand up to the eel, the delicacy to work with the egg custard and the elegance to stand on its when the meal is done.
More of What's Trending on TheStreet:
- PayPal's Stock Has Blown Away Facebook and Google This Year for One Big Reason
- Microsoft's New Xbox One X Shows It's Done Trying to Please Everyone
- How to Invest Like Billionaire Warren Buffett
- A 401(k) Loan Is a Terrible Idea Until It Isn't
Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 22.