Making of a Cocktail Menu

_M9C0060With cocktail menus often rivaling dinner menus in terms of fresh interesting ingredients and thoughtfulness, it seems that a citrusy booze-soaked cocktail class with Brenda Kim might be a perfect dreamy escape from the grey cold of February. Brenda is co-owner, with her husband, Chef Scott Kim, of Sasa on Shaker Square.

We met before the restaurant opened one day recently to chat about what exactly goes into coming up with a list of 15 or so cocktails, some of which change with the season. At Sasa’s stylish bar, guests can order from a wide range of Sake, given the restaurant’s heavy Japanese influence, so there is at least one Sake cocktail at any given time.

The rest of the list is a group effort between the four bartenders and Brenda, and they are all about the fresh ingredients, hand crafted syrups, and unique flavors. Keeping in mind that the staff is too busy to be constantly muddling, they try to keep the list at a manageable size, though experimentation and creativity are always encouraged.

_M9C0044We tried two different cocktails using shochu, a Japanese barley liquor and an alternative to vodka. The Eastern Mule is Sasa’s version of the popular Moscow Mule, with shochu instead of vodka in addition to fresh ginger slices, limes, and mint leaves plus ginger beer. The Lime Mizuari adds fresh-squeezed lime juice to the shochu. On that day, Brenda was experimenting with some basil as well. “I was looking at a beautiful bunch of fresh basil and thought, ‘What can I do with that?’”

This is often the case with cocktail creation at Sasa. Fresh ingredients earn their way into drinks simply by way of being delicious and gorgeous. “What can we do with this?” is often the impetus for a new cocktail.

_M9C0012Next up (and my notes are still their usual barely legible quality at this point, but no worse!) was the simply named, but complex in taste Ruby Cocktail. Introduced for the fall/winter menu, this is a different take on tequila, and one of my favorites from that day. Berries and their juices are steeped for a few days in a compote with Thai basil to produce a lovely flavor that goes perfectly with tequila.

Here my notes start to fall off a bit and I can’t quite tell what the scribbles precisely mean, but the gist of it seems to be that familiar Sasa refrain: “How can we use these wonderful ingredients to make something different from what our guests have had before?”

_M9C0070The favorite of the day was the as yet unnamed and still in progress lemongrass cocktail. (It is now on the menu as — the Lemongrass Cocktail.) “I’m kind of in love with this,” Brenda admitted. “There’s a little bit of magic going on here.” She had made a simple syrup from fresh lemongrass, which reconnects with its source in the form of a tender garnish of the same added just before serving. “It’s nice to know where the flavor came from,” she explains. In addition to lemongrass, Brenda poured some vodka and added a bit of floral essence with elderflower liqueur. A delight.

I should mention, so that we don’t sound too sinful, the Miso broth and pickles that we were snacking on between drinks. And the many hours of conversation enjoyed. Unhurried, comfortable… Time spent at Sasa always feels like this, whether dining with your companions or sampling cocktails one-on-one with the proprietress.

Karin McKenna