Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Agu expands menu and horizons

Nadine Kam photos
One of Agu Ramen's "originals," a bowl of kotteri tonkotsu.

Expanding the way we think about wine and food, Agu A Ramen Bistro was the setting for a unique pairing of affordable wines with Jidori ramen and yet-to-be-introduced small plates on Feb. 11. Some of the new side dishes only recently hit the menu on Feb. 21, coinciding with my review appearing in print on Feb. 26.

The wine event anticipates securing of a liquor license in the coming months, and the restaurant enlisted master sommelier Patrick Okubo to help with the pairings. Without knowing what the new dishes would be like, Okubo had his work cut out for him, but the selections he brought in meshed well with the restaurant's mix of deep-fried, spiced and savory flavors.

Agu quickly became my favorite ramen spot when it opened last fall, and here was no reason to believe it would ever offer more than top-notch ramen and gyoza. That was all anyone could expect and that was enough.

But co-owner and chef Hisashi Uehara, a stickler for such time-consuming details as boiling down pork bones for 18 hours to break down fat, marrow, calcium, minerals and proteins to arrive at a thick, opaque broth, wasn't done yet. He had busily been working on new dishes to add to Agu's basic menu, and I have a feeling he's not done yet.
Agu is at 925 Isenberg St., in the Saint Louis Alumni Clubhouse. Call 808.492.1637.

I thought it couldn't get better than this shio tonkotsu, but updated versions of the ramen now come with butter, silky se-abura (pork fat), or a mound of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, below.

Master sommerlier Patrick Okubo served Secateurs, Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, S. Africa 2012 ($15.27) with the gyoza and Jidori kawa (crispy chicken skin). He said, "The high acid played off of the gyoza because of the vinegar sauce and the Jidori kawa because of the tart ponzu sauce. The high acid sensations cancelled out each other so you could taste the sweet flavors in the food and the fruit in the wine." Chenin blanc happens to be a grape with a natural acidity that compliments other high acid foods.

Delicious pork and vegetable gyoza with light, thin skins delivering a satisfying brittle crackle.

Agu chef Hisashi Uehara delivers a plate of Jidori kawa, crispy chicken skin.

Lincourt, "Lindsey's" Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills 2011 ($22.50) and Buglioni, Il Viggliaco, Brut Rose, Veneto 2011 ($27).

The Il Viggliaco, comprising 100 percent Molinara grapes paired best with the piri kara menma (spiced bamboo shoots, background) because of spice was offset by the wine's 1.2 percent sugar content. Its refreshing acid tones also paired well with the kotteri garlic edamame, and the spice of the Volcano sauce accompanying the mimiga, or deep-fried pork ears.

The lush sweetness of the Lincourt pinot was a good match for the char siu pork because of the richness without the tannin. Pork doesn't require the tannin that you'd find in darker skinned grapes such as cabernet so the pinot will not overpower the pork.

The Lincourt also was a good companion for the chicken liver paté that looks like a scoop of chocolate ice cream. The paté made by Thomas Jones, president of REI Food Service, parent to Agu and Gyotaku Japanese restaurants.

The light, crisp, fruity Donnafugata, Anthilia, Sicily 2012 ($15.50) made from Cataratto and Ansonica, two grapes found only in Sicily, paired best with the shoyu broths, such as the Jidori chicken with shoyu, pictured. While the grenache, Bernabeleva, Camino de Navaherreros, Madrid, Spain 2010 ($11.63) worked well with the heavier tonkotsu broth. The garnacha grape, planted in the 1930s, has a lot of fatness but very little tannin. The thick, viscous tonkotsu is well suited to the fatness of this red wine.

The aromatic Schiopetto, Blanc des Rosis, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2010 ($25), with its main fruilano grape, was a tart and refreshing counterpart to the eggy tartar sauce blankketing Jidori nanban, tender Miyazaki-style fried chicken.

Marinated jellyfish.

Fried mimiga, pork ears, were much too chewy. You could also get a crunchier batch, but they are still so thick you can't forget it's a pig ear. I kept thinking how my dog enjoyed chewing on those available at the pet store! A little thing like that just makes you think it isn't really people food.

Deep-fried chicken skin.

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