Working as a server at Chili’s and then Rio Ranch Restaurant while completing his undergrad degree in Kinesiology at the University of Houston, Mohammad Rahman, known as Mo, decided enough was enough, no more restaurants for him.
But a year later his friend, Phouc Nguyen, then general manager for Azuma Sushi & Robata Bar, roped him back in. And three years after that, having transferred to Azuma Group’s sister restaurant Kata Robata to fill a bar position, Rahman now found himself taking a year off from school— this time he was studying for his master's in Microbiology. “It just kind of fell on me and grew from there.”
Rahman did finish his thesis, he did complete his master's, but instead of continuing to pursue a Ph.D., he pulled a u-ey deciding that he did want to be in this industry. “Every single step happened organically.” His interest having first blossomed from the creative freedom of a bartender to the responsibilities of bar manager and eventually director of the whole beverage program in 2016, Rahman continues to vigorously taste and tear through books, except this time the subject is beer, wine, spirits, all of the above. “It’s almost like traveling and exploring a country, you geek out and then move on to the next place.”
The wine list he’s built at Kata Robata is mostly acidic, mineral-driven white wines that pair perfectly with fish though he’s made sure to pepper in a little bit of the malbecs and cabs to appease everyone. “[The list] is structured to build a guest’s trust, then moving forward we are able to introduce new wines.”
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After having recently visited the Ingenious Brewing Company in Humble, he’s all smiles about the growler of sprinkled doughnut sour he just procured, and thanks to the good taste of his older cousins he credits Scotch as the first spirit he got into, but wine, his moment with wine rests quietly in the back of his memory during a time he was focused on anything but that.
The pre-shifts, the seminars, the tastings. All instructed by the GM / Beverage Director, a man named Ali, were designed to teach the employees of Rio Ranch Restaurant how to serve and sell with eloquence, though for Rahman, they were more involuntary, pumping engine wheels. An immigrant like UAE-born Rahman, Ali was soft spoken and gentle despite working his way up from dishwasher to decades later holding the position he now did. Rahman remembers on Sundays and Tuesdays, Ali would sit on the front patio after the restaurant had closed and enjoy a bottle of wine and cigar to complete the night.
“Everyone knew where Ali was at the end of the night and he always had an open invite to those interested in what he was trying.” One of his favorites was Opus One, which he would open on plenty occasions, Rahman remembers. The Oakville AVA collaboration between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux and Napa titan Robert Mondavi results in a mostly cabernet blend with the punch of a three-week maceration, the finesse of 18 months spent aging in new French oak, and the know-how from generations of making fine wine.
“You kind of have to build a palate to understand the depth of everything. I was in my early twenties with no concept of what Opus One was, just enjoying this fine wine with him— it got me thinking about it differently.”