For sake's sake

Can a traditional beverage, long declining in market-share on its native ground, become the Next Big Thing in a foreign land? Grif Frost thinks so, and he's willing to put his product on the line to prove it. Last week in Seattle, Frost threw a press party to introduce his new line of American-made premium sakes. For those who have only encountered sake served warm in tiny carafes as an accompaniment to sashimi or sushi, Frost's products take a little getting used to. To start with, their creator wants them served cold, in classic tulip-shape wineglasses. Nor is he a traditionalist about how the products are made: He outraged purists by dosing one of his new lines with extract of ginger on the simple grounds that lots of Americans, used to wine, sniff their glass of sake and are disappointed to find its bouquet bland to nonexistent. In fact, Frost boasts that none of his four Y sakes—named after the elements of wind, sky, snow, and rain—really resemble Japanese sakes very much. The closest, to an inexperienced Western palate, is probably Wind, while Sky suggests spring water with alcoholic overtones and Snow is so cloudy with rice residue that it feels sandy on the tongue. Frost has acquired a powerful collaborator in his campaign to make a place for sake on the American dining table: Roy Yamaguchi, the phenomenally successful chef-owner of nearly 20 Roy's restaurants, from Maui to Tokyo to Scottsdale, Arizona. Yamaguchi has put all four Y sakes on the menu at the Roy's in the Westin Hotel, Seattle, and devised a five-course sake tasting menu to set them off. $65 buys traditional shot-glass-sized portions of Sky, Rain, Wind, and Snow, each served with its own course: a mold of chopped raw salmon and ahi tuna, each half topped with a dusting of flying fish eggs; a luscious chunk of grilled salmon in a pool of soy vinaigrette; a cup of mushi (jellied broth) topped with a nugget of lobster and a dash of caviar; and a round of butter-tender smoked pork topped with a cube of miso-marinated Chilean sea bass. Tiny fruit tarts and coffee round off the proceedings. A palate ingrained in Western eating habits may find itself longing for wine to enhance the cuisine's varied delights. Sake, after all, is fermented milled rice, and nothing can lend it the sheer complexity of wine's thousands of aromatic and tactile ingedients. But you'll never have a better chance to sample what variety of flavor sake does have to offer; and, if you end unconvinced that the most exotic rice will ever be able to stand up to even a semillon blanc or barbera, you've still had the consolation of Roy Yamaguchi's culinary confections to console you. (Y Daiginjo Sake Tasting menu at Roy's Seattle: Westin Hotel, 1900 Fifth, 256-7697.) Sock us with your sake stories! E-mail

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