Sake is a tragically misunderstood drink. It is not a spirit, as the infamous sake bomb would have you believe. Nor is it technically a wine, although it is commonly referred to as one. The process of making sake is perhaps most closely related to brewing beer. Though beer remains, at best, a distant cousin.
Simply put, sake is sake.
Few Japanese eateries in the states show the national drink of Japan the respect it deserves. Most serve low quality stuff on par with imitation crab meat in their California rolls. Even fewer establishments incorporate sake into their bar programs and cocktail menus in a meaningful way.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya is not like those other places. The Montrose ramen shop with roots in Austin has been changing Houstonians' preconceptions about ramen for almost a year and a half. These guys take ramen seriously — like, really really seriously.
The Houston location serves approximately 50 gallons of fresh pork broth every day. Four kinds of flour are used to make Tatsu-Ya's custom noodles, which are strictly for dine-in consumption. Take-out orders are a big no-can-do for executive sous chef Kevin Kobayashi and his crew. In fact, if you're not at your table when your ramen is dropped off, they will bring you a fresh bowl. It's that serious.
Naturally, when a restaurant that dedicated to the craft of traditional Japanese cuisine sets out to create a bar program, sake is going to be the star of said program. Houston Press was recently invited to find out just how big of a role sake plays in Ramen Tatsu-Ya's cocktail list. The menu features 5 sake based cocktails crafted to pair with elements of the Tatsu-Ya food menu.
The Kyuri Kup is a straightforward citrus and wine cocktail. A boozy take on lemonade, this summer drink mixes three citruses with a sake base: lemon, lime, and yuzu (the tangerine-sized Asian cousin of the lemon). The real pièce de résistance of this drink, however, is not inside the glass, but atop it. A salty and savory rim of shiso furikake (dried shiso flakes) adds an addicting layer of depth to an otherwise standard summer cocktail.
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The Kyuri Kup pairs well with another seasonal item, the Chilled Spicy Ramen. A brothless ramen served cold with ground pork, citrus soy dressing, and an assortment of spices and veggies. The perfect alternative to hot ramen when it's 100 degrees outside.
Another standout of Tatsu-Ya's sake program is the bubble-tea inspired Baezilla. Sparkling Thai basil limeade meets sake and floating basil seeds to create an aesthetically beautiful beverage that recreates the experience of bubble-tea with and adult twist.
The sparkling sake drink is most favorably paired with the spicy edamame. Edamame (steamed soy beans) gets a liberal seasoning of jalapeno, sea salt, togarashi, and spicy lemon soy to create a small Japanese appetizer with a uniquely Texan kick; a kick that can be subdued with the Baezilla's sparkling citrus tart.