"What's your signature drink?" It's a fairly inane question, but it's one Shon Kyto thinks about a lot. He's the manager of Kata Robata, but after seven years serving drinks at Azuma, the bar is still his baby. He shows me the cork-bound drinks menu with not a little pride. "People always ask, 'What's your signature drink?' and I would respond, 'Well, we don't really have one, but what do you like?' because I could make pretty much anything. But then some people just really need a menu, or they take forever to figure out what they want. So we had to add a signature drink menu. Signature drinks are what sell."
"We came up with about ten that are crowd-pleasers but also have some relevance to the cuisine," Kyto explains, as he plops a cherry into a Tokyo Rainbow, a spin on the ever-present appletini with a splash of blue curaçao and grenadine, rendering it a lime-tinted bomb pop. "That's why we use sake instead of vodka." The addition of sake turns out to be sheer brilliance, since it turns a syrupy-sweet drink best loved by sorority chicks and bachelorettes into one with just enough character and a hint of bite. Sake, in addition to being a big part of the menu, with bottles ranging from $10 to $110, features in several of the mixed drinks, as does a Japanese spirit called Shochu made from distilled sweet potatoes. "You can't be a sushi restaurant and have a bunch of drinks that have nothing to do with Japan," explains Kyto.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Apple Pucker aside, fruit dominates the menu: fresh mango puree in the Mangozilla, tangerine concoctions, even peach in the (awesome) mojitos. Kyto explains it's a combination of what he personally likes to drink, what tastes good after a hot Houston day, and flavor trends. "Pomegranate right now is really in; a few years ago it was lychee. But the mojito in the past year has skyrocketed. On the East Coast, a lot of people ask for guava. Guava could be the next thing, but it's really complicated to make that flavor really good in a cocktail," he explains. "And I care about the drink, because if someone tries the drink and they like it, and want to know who came up with it, someone points to me. I love that feeling. I hate when someone leaves a drink half-full. I want them to love it and order another one."