By LINDSAY GARRIC
Ryan Yamada, Beverage Director of The Lounge at Sinema has been very busy.
Spring has only just sprung, but Yamada has dug his heels into his leadership and creative position at the upstairs bar of the highly lauded restaurant by creating an entirely new beverage menu. The opus features no less than 11 original cocktails, specialty drinks that utilize house-made tonic syrups and ginger beer, as well as a finely chosen selection of beer and wine.
The menu debuted on March 1st and has already won over guests with Yamada’s signature “foodie” approach to craft cocktails. His idea is to “keep it fresh, so that guests come back for the food, the drinks and the creativity of the program.”
The nine new cocktails that come from the mind of Yamada cover the gamut of spirits and flavors, with names that pay homage to movies, culture and music, remaining in thematic alignment with Sinema’s movie and music décor.
The new menu can be enjoyed both the upstairs Lounge and the downstairs dining room with the exception of the new House Specialty Gin and Tonics, Moscow Mules and Highballs, which are exclusive to The Lounge.
Yamada used a collaborative approach to invent the new recipes, “We really took a lot of time when we developed this menu and brought all the bartenders in. So, a lot of these were team efforts.”
Yamada’s passion for flavors is demonstrated in the immaculate prep kitchen designated specifically for the Lounge. The space is Yamada’s playground, where he formulates and experiments with ingredients for his latest creations. Staff spends 12 hours a week outside of bartending shifts making the syrups and flavorings utilized for the drinks. Although Yamada is looking forward to some future workshops, he’s currently using self-taught methods for culinary science projects like crafting Sinema-made tonic water using cinchona bark. This results in true tonic water that harnesses the healing capabilities of the cinchona bark.
Yamada took time to deftly demo three of the most popular cocktails from the new selection while he gamely chatted about the Nashville food and bev scene, his upcoming move into the Melrose neighborhood and his girlfriend’s gardening tips. The mastery of his craft was difficult to ignore as he expertly shook, stirred and garnished while engaged in relaxed conversation and generously shared his extensive knowledge on sprits and flavors.
He started by preparing the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cucumber,” a Bristow Gin concoction made with lemongrass simple syrup and fresh lime and cucumber juice. Yamada commented as he shook the ingredients, “The cucumber juice lends a beautiful color. You have to peel away half of the skin, this leaves a nice, lighter green.” The thundering sound of ice clamoring in the metal shaker added percussion to the soundtrack that played in the bar.
That color was revealed as he poured the chilled liquid from the frosted shaker, a neon chartreuse that proclaimed spring. The refreshing flavors don’t mask the hyssop, juniper and botanicals of the Bristow Gin, but rather showcase them. He artfully splayed fresh cucumber for the garnish, “which from a sensory perception, lends its scent” and leaves no detail of the imbibing experience ignored.
Yamada suggested pairing the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cucumber” with the Brie from the Share menu for a light meal as he reflected, “A big part of this menu was presentation as well. We really wanted to step up what how were doing the presentation of the drinks to really match the presentation of the food here. Because they take so much care in plating the food, I wanted really nice garnishes to kind of catch your eye as well – colorful, playful and fun. So, the presentation was very important. People really eat with their eyes first. I really wanted that to come through.”
Next up was the Dead Rabbit, Yamada’s version of a Spring Manhattan with “really nice, light flavors.” The name is a nod to the Irish gang in the movie “Gangs of New York” and utilizes Jameson, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, Amaro Nonino and Orange Bitters for “a lot of orange flavors that play with the floral notes in the Jameson.” He recommended enjoying one before a meal of the “Skirt (Steak) & Papaya” off the Share menu with the Filet or Cobia as a main paired with the 2013 Macon-Village Domain Perraud Chardonnay.
The use of Amaro Nonino, an Italian liquor whose name means “bitter” in Italian stood out as Yamada used an atomizer for “more consistent” coating of the “Dead Rabbit” glassware. Garnished with a lemon zest arrow, the cocktail is an example of the most refined use of what is perhaps typically thought of as a “shot” whiskey, more likely to be found on Broadway than showcased in a high-end cocktail at a renowned eatery.
Yamada defends his use of the spirit, “I like the nuances of Jameson. I wanted to use bourbon for my Spring Manhattan, but a lot of the bourbons are a little bit sweeter. I thought, ‘Wait – why don’t I do a whisky?’ Jameson is a really great Irish Whiskey. The structure on it, it has a really great body. It has a lot of really lovely floral notes that would pair with some of the orange flavors and the Nonino really brings it up.” The result is an incredible collage of flavors in line with Yamada’s theory to keep craft cocktails accessible.
He adds, “There’s a craft that goes into spirit making. There’s a lot behind it. Unfortunately, the drinking culture that has spanned more recently has given a bad stigma to some of the spirits. For example, one of the spirits I used on the menu, the Jagermeister in the ‘There will be Blood… Oranges.’ Everyone has this preconception that they don’t want a Jagermeister cocktail, but the people that have tried it, loved it.”
Yamada finished his cocktail exhibition with the scrumptious “Style and Grace,” a sensually rose-tinted play on the Kir Royale inspired by Yamada’s girlfriend’s grandmother, “who is a spitfire, is hilarious. Her favorite drink was the Kir Royale. She would go down to the casino, drink Kir Royales and go dancing.”
The Kir Royale is traditionally comprised of champagne and Chambord. Yamada said, “This one I’ve kind of dressed up a little bit more than that. This one is blackberry, with Orgeat, lemon juice, mint, and sparkling rosé.”
Those components combine into a sophisticated, silky, magenta liquid with a stunning flavor profile. The blackberry strokes the palette, its flavor
enhanced by the lemon and mint and pushed forward by the bubbles in the rosé. Although, elegant and refined, the Style and Grace should be available by the pitcher because once at the bottom, a refill is mandatory.
Yamada admitted there are a couple more “esoteric” cocktails on the new menu like the “Pho’get Me Not” that features Sriracha and is therefore more of a “one and done” drinking event, but, “try it and you’ll love it” is an accurate adage for a visit with Yamada at The Lounge and to Sinema as a rule, so don’t refuse the chance to sample something that may thrill the palette and will likely only be available for a limited time.
Yamada recently returned from a visit to New Orleans where he got inspiration for his upcoming Summer Menu. He mused about the year-round growing season and sampled “a mango freeze which is a big thing during Jazz Fest.” That cocktail has propelled Yamada to begin formulating the “Mango Unchained” for the warm weather selection at The Lounge. He is also working on an idea for a “garden martini with tomato oils.” He said, “I want to do something with a little bit of salt and celery juice.” He’ll use heirloom tomatoes and handmade salts, which make it clear with Yamada at the helm, there will be something to look forward to all year long at The Lounge at Sinema.
Sinema Restaurant and Bar
The Melrose Theatre Building
2600 Franklin Pike, Ste. 102
Nashville, TN 37204
Dinner Mon – Thur 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri – Sat 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Lounge Mon – Thur 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Fri – Sat 4:30 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Brunch Sun 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.