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A Chat with Shon Kyto of Kata Robata

"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.

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."

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