The sprint of the remaining days of 2015 is in full tilt boogie.
Loads of holiday festivities are demanding to be crammed into already tight schedules, but work parties, family fetes and shopping galore are all excuses to get out into Nashville’s developing trendy pockets for culinary and beverage explorations.
Sinema Restaurant and Bar has been a huge part of the vibrant Melrose neighborhood’s re-creation, a go-to spot for its highly acclaimed food and its rock and roll themed Lounge.
Sinema’s second floor bar has the sensuous curve of a stage, showcasing the talents of the mixologists who perform behind it. They are watched over by a chorus of iconic photographs of music’s biggest stars, frozen in famous moments of black and white.
Center stage is Beverage Director Ryan Yamada and he is visibly pleased with himself. He has meticulously concocted a pale yellow, creamy composition of spirited art that has detonated a sophisticated flavor explosion to his audience. Yamada revels in the question of what the unexpected initial note in the Mele Kalikimaka may be. He shines like the Christmas lights wrapped around a palm tree he envisioned when he created the holiday libation, as he educates his guests.
Although the beverage is fragranced with frothy pineapple and coconut, it is Solbeso, a cacao liqueur that completes the symphony. The master spiritor delights in bringing approachability to the exotic ingredients he showcases.
Yamada is handsome, dressed in festively colored clothing and groomed impeccably. He’s spellbinding when he expounds on his motivation for a recipe. He’s charismatically articulate and his smooth voice exudes a warm vibrancy. It’s difficult to ignore how well versed in his craft Yamada is. His passion for his profession is both organic and authentic, adding to the undeniable feeling of being in the presence of a rising star.
Raised in North Carolina, Yamada made his way to Nashville via New Orleans where he worked in “a beer and shot bar doing volume/speed bartending” until he started taking notice of what his brother was slinging in the NOLA craft cocktail scene.
“I would go to his contests, go to his exhibitions, go to different nights he was featured in and all of the activities he was doing. I would see the creativity that he had. I was like, how are you doing this? I grew up in a restaurant family. I love to eat. I love flavor pairings. I’ve always liked wine, so when I saw what he was doing with spirits, it really interested me. It’s kind of funny, he’s my younger brother, but he’s my mentor. In the bar world he really inspired me to push it. He taught me a lot about flavors and really helped me to get my first job in New Orleans, at Bar Tonique, where they really trust you to take your base knowledge of classic cocktails and just have at it.”
Yamada made the move to Nashville six months ago motivated by the exciting, up and coming market, “Everyone I talked to said this could be one of the next great food and bev destinations.” Sinema snagged him and is taking full advantage of his presence during the holiday season, including for the upcoming, sold out New Year’s Eve celebration. “This venue is really built to host parties. You can have all these parties up here because it’s sectioned off really nicely.” He says the ability to host simultaneous gatherings in the Lounge is a unique way to bring unexpected groups together during the revelatory season.
As he compiles the ingredients for his next liquid masterpiece, he comments on the tasteful holiday decorations, pointing out the Christmas tree and the inclusion of peacocks and more muted tones, a reflection of Sinema’s owner’s English heritage. He moves his focus to the beverage, commenting on how it is the perfect way to start out a meal or to savor on its own if someone is looking for a version of a champagne cocktail.
What he’s making is his play on the classic French 75 and as the empty cup awaits, his hand on a bottle of Génépy des Alpes, he pauses to muse about the elements he’s bringing together, “I’ve created a mint simple syrup and then use lime juice as opposed to the traditional lemon juice because it highlights the more herbal notes and gives it a really nice balance. Génépy is an Alsatian flower and it’s a primary flavor in Chartreuse.” This sends Yamada into an ode of his love for that particular distillation. Then, he purrs about how “the flavors are playful on your lips,” in anticipation of the New Year’s Eve tradition he has named this creation for, the “Midnight Kiss.”
It’s that kind of poetry that makes Yamada poised to shake up the craft cocktail world.
He’s incredibly humble about his process, saying, “I tend to work a little bit backwards when I create drinks. My background isn’t in the spirit world. In the realm of things, I’m newer to this world. But, I know food, I know flavor, I was brought up with a restaurant family and I love to eat. I approach this from food pairing. I ask if I can bring all of these flavors together will it work? I think it works.”
A sip of the Midnight Kiss thrilling taste buds is observed as he details, “You don’t want anything to over power anything because then the drinkability goes down. As long as it is balanced, it should be approachable and enjoyable.” And balance extends to Yamada’s personal drinking habits, which err more on the beer and whiskey side of the bar. Not that he doesn’t treat himself every once in a while. “If I’m really indulging myself, champagne is fantastic. It’s kind of spoiling when I indulge myself with champagne. But, I’m not particularly picky.”
When it comes the menu he’s engineered at Sinema that’s another story. “Anyone that knows me in the cocktail world, knows that I tend toward spices. I love allspice. I love cinnamon. I love cloves – those kinds of flavors. Making tea flavored syrups. I’ve done a lot with cranberry this holiday season as well. We’ve done a lot of punches here. Cinnamon cranberry or lavender cranberry – two very different flavors, but cranberry, the tartness of it, just the body, holds very well.”
The Mele Kalikimaka and the Midnight Kiss will be featured on the Sinema dessert menu through the New Year, but Yamada doesn’t want that to stop guests from enjoying what may traditionally be positioned as an afterthought, throughout the dining experience. “If you have in mind what you are going to be eating, then you pair that with the flavors of your cocktail, just as easily as you can do that with wine, just as easily as you can do that with beer. You can really pair any kind of spirit or alcohol that you are drinking with your entire meal.”
And with that, he steps around the implied fourth wall, to view the shelves of bottles that line the bar. He seems to at once be taking inventory for the rest of the night and getting inspiration for future creations, the eyes of the rock star portraits and Nashville food and drink lovers – on him.
Monday – Thursday, 5:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday – 5:00 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Monday – Thursday, 4:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Friday and Saturday – 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.