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Cocktails in the Convoy District, Part I

Tajima’s Mercury Street location has the perfect ramen pairings


Tajima's new lineup of cocktails | Photo by Lyudmila Zatova

Most folks know a good bit about wine pairings. And some can tell you which foods go best with certain styles of beer. But cocktail and food pairings? Not so easy.

One rule of thumb is to go for opposites: a salty dish like, say, ramen works perfectly with a cocktail that leans sweet. This is why the new cocktail menu at Tajima’s Mercury Street location works so well. I’d argue that their version of a Blood & Sand complements a bowl of ramen far better than any beer or sake.

Mercury Street is the only one of the popular ramen chain’s four locations that serves cocktails. Right now it’s a bit of an experiment, restaurant manager Masashi Sugawara told me—and they’re open to changing the menu based on customer preferences. “We want to see how it goes,” he said.

Currently there are six cocktails on the menu. The two most ramen-friendly are the Blood & Sand (Monkey Shoulder blended scotch, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, and fresh orange juice) and the Osaka Pirate (Malahat Black Tea Rum, simple syrup, and fresh lime juice). Both cocktails are simple and delicious—sweet but not cloying and anchored by quality ingredients. Malahat is a local distiller that specializes in rum and whiskey, and Monkey Shoulder recently turned up on Dinner Party Download’s short list of whiskey recommendations.

The Blood & Sand is a classic cocktail, but it’s one I’ve not had a good experience with—you’d  think it would be difficult to screw up, but even a bar known for its craft cocktails served me a pretty bad version not too long ago. At Tajima, all the servers have been trained to make cocktails. Our server, Alison Yu, nailed it. The Blood & Sand that Alison made was one of the better cocktails I’ve had this year. The lady shakes a tin like a pro.

The Blood & Sand that Alison made was one of the better cocktails I’ve had this year. The lady shakes a tin like a pro.

Also tasty was Hare of the Dog, a Japanese take on a Bloody Mary, made with Suerte reposado tequila, yuzu juice, ramen broth—yes, ramen broth—Sriracha, and tomato juice, garnished with a blistered shishito pepper. This cocktail is exactly what you want in a Bloody Mary—a perfect balance of spicy and savory. It’s probably too savory to pair with ramen, but I’d seek this out as a hangover cure any day (or, at least, the rare days I’d need it).

The Tokyo Buck is Tajima’s take on a traditional mule, made with Iwai whiskey (a really excellent, smooth Japanese whiskey), fresh lemon juice, Giffard Creme Fraises des Bois liqueur, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters, topped with ginger beer. It leaned a little sweet for my taste—I wanted more of the Iwai to shine through—but was nevertheless enjoyable.

A little less successful were the Black Vine (Tito’s vodka, yuzu juice, simple syrup, and Giffard Crème de Mure) and the Lichi Collins (Damrak gin, Giffard Lichi Li Lychee liqueur, and fresh lemon juice, topped with Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin). The Black Vine would probably be better without the simple syrup, and, as for the Collins, I’m not a huge fan of the Grapefruit Sculpin—that’s just my taste—but I love lychee fruit, with its subtle, delicate sweetness. This cocktail seemed like a chance to do something interesting with lychee and gin. Alison, our server, was open to seeing how it worked without the Sculpin and quickly whipped up an alternate version. She found it to be a little tart, but I thought it was pretty good.

Decent cocktail spots in the Convoy District are few, which makes Tajima a destination. You can’t go wrong with a bowl of ramen and a well-made cocktail—it's the ultimate comfort pairing.

Got suggestions for a future column? Write to 2kellydavis@gmail.com.

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