We started with the kind of sake most people use to drink shooters and beer. It was warm, clear in color, dryly medicinal in flavor and called Hananomai Katana. Okay, adventures in drinking phase one. Actually, it wasn't that bad at all and as it made its way down, it created a warm and friendly buzz feeling in the middle of your chest.
Thus fortified, the assembled journalists got down to their first course at a sake and sushi pairing event at Ra Sushi (3908 Westheimer in Highland Village, 713-621-5800) Tuesday night. It was all part of a promotion on Ra Sushi's part to get out the word that it has extended its happy hour to six days a week, added some new dishes and drinks, and lowered prices. Along the way we also downed a lot of edamame - salted green soybeans (they taste way better than they sound).
Our spirit guides for the evening were General Manager Wayne Kammerl and Manager Kory Hinton. They carefully explained each upcoming sake and why it was chosen for that course, and gave it a brief rating. Kammerl's authority was earned; as he says: "We are by no means experts in sake. We've learned by drinking it."
The first sake was paired with two new appetizers: Shrimp Shumai (lightly fried shrimp dumplings with a sesame mustard sauce - really tasty) and Spicy Octopus & Cucumber Salad (with chili sauce) as well as menu standards: pineapple cheese wonton and RA'ckin Shrimp.
The next sake was better, they promised (and delivered), and a little bit sweeter as we moved on to "cool" sakes. Kizakura Nigori is an unfiltered sake so it looked cloudier than the first filtered one. It was paired with a beef tataki roll (artichoke, asparagus, roasted red peppers and avocado rolled with flat iron steak and soy chili sauce), mango lobster roll, Kona Kampachi (aka Hawaiian Yellowtail) and Nigiri (basically a sliver of fish over a little mound of rice).
By the third course, we'd left sushi behind and were eating (cooked) apple teriyaki salmon and wasabi mashed potatoes (didn't seem to be much wasabi in them, very green but not very hot), paired with Kizakura Pure which Kammerl said is one of their most popular sakes. Rounding home, we had a pretty sweet sake in the Sho Chiku Bai Nigori which was paired with coconut crème brulee. The crème brulee was wonderful, but several of us abandoned the sake for the cup of coffee that seemed brulee's more natural counterpoint.
Crossing the finish line, we drank a last, sparkling sake to toast the night. No one seemed unduly the worse for wear since the sake was used more for cautious sipping than huge quaffs throughout the evening, however many shouts of "kampai!" we were encouraged to make.
Behind us, the crowd of young professionals grew along the bar. Ra offers its happy hour from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. During that time you can get hot sake for $1, well drinks for $4 and Kirin Sake Bombers for $6. Food wise you can get a California Roll for $3, Shrimp Nigiri for $2.38 (?) and Crispy Spicy Tuna ($4.88).
Even with the economic woes, Kammerl says their business has been great even on slower Mondays and Tuesdays. In fact Ra Sushi is going to open up a new location in mid-May at I-10 and Beltway 8 and Kammerl will be the general manager there, while Hinton moves up to general manager at the Highland Village site.