Bartender Chat: David of Kata Robata

My chiropractor told me I'm constantly pinching nerves in my neck because I sleep on my stomach, and in order to break that habit, I need a "special" pillow.

Makes sense, I guess, so off to Bed, Bath & Beyond I went to check out the awkward, way overpriced and super-ugly therapeutic pillows. After perusing the aisles for a while, feeling bombarded by all the options and deciding that there was no way in hell I was going to spend more than $200 for a pillow, I needed a drink.

I had never visited Kata Robata before, which is just down the street from BB&B, but I figured a snack and a cocktail might "un-pinch" the nerves, not cost $200, and taste way better than a pillow. At the bar, I met friendly bartender David, who can make a delicious, spicy, taste bud-tingling concoction but has also been known to whip up a mean meal...while he's faaaaast asleep.

Where are you from? I was born in Beijing, but I'm from Los Angeles. I've been in Houston for 10 years.

How long have you been bartending at Kata Robata? I've been here about a year.

How would you describe the bar's aesthetic? It's very friendly. The bar area is small, so you feel welcome when you walk in.

How would you describe the crowd? I'd say the crowd is about 60 percent regulars, and of course we see new faces all the time. We get a lot of people that live and work in the neighborhood, but we also see people that drive in from Sugarland, The Woodlands and other outlying areas. They drive a pretty good distance to come here, and they pass so many other sushi places on the way, so it really means a lot.

Fill in the blank: To bartend at Kata Robata, you have to be able to _____. You have to really know your cocktails and have a sense of creativity. You don't have to know every single drink in the book, but you have to like to experiment. It's not just about taking a Prohibition Era cocktail and make some variation of it -- that's not what we're trying to do here. We're all about coordinating the cocktails with the food and finding exactly what the guests want.

Do you have a specialty or a drink you pride yourself on? We have a new cocktail menu, and one of my favorites is the Cucumber Stud with habanero vodka, Square One organic cucumber vodka, lemongrass and basil. It's really got a nice kick to it.

How did you develop your bartending style? Joshua Martinez first introduced me to this side of the bar. I mean, I had bartended before, but never like this. He taught me the sous-vide ("under vacuum" en français) method of infusing, where you vacuum seal your ingredients and a machine gives it a sort of hot water bath. Instead of taking two weeks to infuse a spirit, it takes a few hours and the flavor is really intense.

Fill in the blank: At the end of my shift, I pour a ______. Woodford Reserve on the rocks. Nothing fancy. After a long shift I just like to keep it simple.

Do you have a favorite menu item? The sushi here is amazing; I come on my off-days to get sushi, but the Kobe beef skewers -- I could eat them seven days a week and not get tired of them. They're so good.

Favorite place to get a drink on your day off? Poison Girl is one of my favorite spots.

**Wildcard** If you were caught sleepwalking, where would someone find you? My roommates have found me cooking. Apparently, I'm a really good sleep-chef. I wake up and find plates and cups next to my bed...and I hadn't even been drinking.

Kata Robata is located at 3600 Kirby. Stop by, say hi to David and let him make you a fantastic, unique cocktail. During happy hour, which is 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays, you can get $4 to $7 appetizers, sushi rolls and $6 cocktails.

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Ginny Braud
Contact: Ginny Braud