SushiSamba is revamping its cocktail program with the help of Richard Woods, head of spirit and cocktail development for SushiSamba Restaurants.
What's new on the menu? Lighter cocktails that "enhance rather than mask" the spirits. Woods has a twofold mission: Create new cocktails and rework classic favorites to make them more current, modern, and flavorful.
Woods is based out of London, where he also runs the bar program for Duck and Waffle. He said that many of SushiSamba's signature cocktails were created more than a decade ago and that tastes have evolved since then.
"A lot of feedback at the recent Coral Gables friends-and-family event was that the cocktails were too sweet, the flavors were too powerful. I said that we have to do something. This is why we do friends-and-family, so we can tweak the recipes. We can make syrups less sweet, citrus less sour, infusions less or more potent -- depending on the comments."
The difference between London and Miami drinkers? Woods found that Miamians like their cocktails fruity and fresh -- with a kick.
"It's nice that a lot of food that we import to London is grown in a lot of people's backyards here. We use a lot of kaffir lime leaves in our cocktails. In London we buy a pound at a time for about $17. Here, the general manager and the owner joked about having a row of trees. I'm marginally jealous of that. There's also lots of muddled fruits, and your measure is different from our measure in London, so that makes for stronger drinks here."
Because many signature cocktails on the SushiSamba menu have been around for at least a decade, the mixologist wanted to bring the drinks up-to-date.
"There are a lot of SushiSamba cocktails that have been around since the late '90s that I want to keep because they're integral to the brand, but you can work with the flavors. I've made the purées and syrups lighter and added bitters. Tart is a word I don't like. Yes, you need to have citrus and sweetness, but you need balance. In the '90s, drinks used to hide the spirit. Now the goal is to enhance the flavor."
The new drink menu has about a dozen drinks now, with additional cocktails to be added in the future, so as not to overwhelm both staff and customers with a "book" of new recipes. The key, by the way, to introducing new flavors to people stuck in a cocktail rut? Woods says he mixes old and new elements.
"In the gym, 'go big or go home' is a good attitude. Not so much behind the bar. For instance, I'm introducing a drink at the Coral Gables location which is an old-fashioned with tobacco bitters. I've tweaked it so it's bourbon and cachaça. It's a take on an old classic."
Woods says the key to a great drink is threefold, incorporating texture, aroma, and visual aspects. "We buy with our eyes," he says. Indeed, his creations, like his take on the mojito with "sexy limes," are stunning.
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With all of this creativity, there's one thing you won't find behind Woods' bar -- a lazy attitude.
"This is not a job for me. I don't work; I play. I have the fortune to be paid to do what I love."