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Lucy Saunders
4230 N. Oakland #178
Shorewood WI
53211 USA
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Asian beer and seafood

There's a lager revolution brewing in the Bay Area. More than half the Japanese lagers sold in the U.S. goes to thirsty consumers in restaurants--and especially those in San Francisco.

But is it just sold to traveling Asian businessmen thirsty for a taste of home? Not according to the top Japanese seafood restaurateurs in San Francisco and environs.

Crisp and dry, medium-bodied and with a discernible hops bitterness, Japanese lagers tend to be middle-of-the road crowd-pleasers. High enough in alcohol and carbonation to withstand the assaults of pungent wasabi horseradish, red chili garlic paste, and other traditional Asian spices, Japanese lagers can pair well with virtually any food.

But in California, where consumption of seafood is almost double that of other regions in the U.S., the traditional dish is fish. From grilled ahi tuna, to seared salmon with a spicy red chili sauce, to a salad of Asian noodles with seafood, scallions and soy sauce, to crunchy shrimp tempura glazed with a plum dipping sauce, all kinds of seafood creations are enjoyed with Japanese lagers.
Perhaps it is the contrast between the creamy, delicate texture of fish and the effusive carbonation common to many Japanese lagers, or the pleasing match of a crisp tempura crust with a quenchingly tart taste.

At Fuki-Sushi in Palo Alto, diners can choose from dozens of incarnations of sushi, sashimi and cooked seafood dishes, at the 18-seat sushi bar, or in the 170-seat restaurant. For almost 20 years, Fuki-Sushi has built its business on seafood--with sales of Japanese beers to match. Appetizers, such as a spicy spider roll, made from deep-fried soft-shell crab with its spidery legs intact in a golden shell of crust, to a shrimp ebi-tempura roll, are almost always served with beer.

Says Kayo Io, co-owner of the restaurant, "Both Americans and Asians will order beer first, to accompany appetizers, but Americans tend to stick with beer throughout the meal."

Of the Japanese beers, Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo are the top-selling brands at Fuki-Sushi. "Japanese drinkers tend to be very brand-loyal," says Io. "But Americans are willing to experiment, often ordering several different brands of beer during a single evening."

Satisfying that same desire for experimentation led the chefs at Fuki-Sushi to offer vegetarian sushi, seaweed-and-rice rolls filled not with raw fish, but with cooked vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms, spicy yams, pickled radishes, and fresh, creamy avocado.

Customer requests for spicier foods led another chef-restaurateur, Kazuo Shimizu of U-Zen Restaurant, Oakland, CA, to create a spicy scallop and salmon sashimi salad. The seafood is tossed with wasabi and Hichimi Japanese red chili spices, then served atop a blend of organic wild greens and mesclun. "The spicy salad goes really well with the Asahi Super Dry," says Shimizu, "it is a good contrast."

Shimizu serves lots of other spicy sushi specialties, "which are not even made in Japan, it is an invention for American tastes." When asked if he thought Americans were ready for the taste of the fabled black beers of Japan, Shimizu pointed out that Americans are already requesting dark, roasted flavors--but in their coffee.

"When I came here 10 years ago, the typical cup of American coffee was very thin and watery and weak," says Shimizu. "Now, there are dozens of coffee roasters, such as Peet's and Starbucks, and even United Airlines offers the really dark roasted, strong, black coffee on their flights. Americans are growing to appreciate the dark roasted flavors of espresso, so maybe they are ready for the stronger flavors of black beers."

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