Creative cocktails, sake, draft and canned brews and Jello bombs rarely exist side by side, but at the new Tokio Pub in suburban Chicago, Beverage Director Jill Koval endeavored to put them all together in a way that pays homage to the traditional Japanese gastropub style while catering to suburban shoppers.
Mix: What are the challenges of putting together a beverage program at an Asian-themed casual place, known as an izakaya in Japan?
Jill Koval: Successfully incorporating items that you would find at an authentic izakaya while keeping them approachable.
Mix: You use the full range of Asian ingredients — yuzu, sake, etc. — but also go outside the concept with cocktails that include ingredients such as merlot and Red Bull. Was this to make the menu a little unpredictable, or what?
Koval: This was our way to fuse together the East and the West with traditional Asian ingredients and some popular items that are fun and easy to incorporate.
Mix: Is keeping the cocktails compatible with the food here important?
Koval: We believe in making cocktails and dishes that can truly stand alone. Our beverage menu certainly pairs well with our signature items but drink just as easily alone.
Mix: You're offering some drinks as singles and in pitchers. What sorts of drinks do you think work best as pitchers?
Koval: We love the idea of drinks in pitchers as they're meant to be shared, it really embraces our vision of Tokio Pub: guests sharing small plates while relaxing over a pitcher of one of our signature Pub Mixers.
Mix: Yuzu can be a fairly fragile and expensive ingredient, but bartenders I've spoken with are excited about its flavor profile. What do you like about using it in cocktails?
Koval: I personally like yuzu's versatility and unique flavor in drinks. Our specific blend acts as a spin on traditional sour mix and really adds a whole new layer to the cocktail.
Mix: Are you planning for the beverage menu to change seasonally? If so, what sort of drinks would make sense in this concept for the fall?
Koval: I see our menu utilizing our local resources as it evolves. We support local farms and brewers, and I do see that playing a bigger role in our menu throughout the year. We're specifically excited about the apple and pear season and how they could enhance our beverage program.
Mix: What's your favorite cocktail right now?
Koval: The Yuzu Drop, our play on the traditional Lemon Drop but in an East-meets-West way. Finlandia Tangerine, yuzu sour mix, sweet and salty rim.