Posted on | March 21, 2016
Written by | Alia Akkam
Come summertime, one of New York’s most desirable locales is the Roof at Park South. But there are other lairs in which to imbibe at this fashionable hotel near the Empire State Building: Tim and Nancy Cushman’s Japanese restaurant O Ya, as well their new Mediterranean-inspired Covina. Beverage Director Ted Kilpatrick oversees the drinks at all of them.
Beverage Media Group: Naturally, saké is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a Japanese restaurant. How does O Ya transcend that?
Ted Kilpatrick: I’ll say out of the gate that O Ya’s beverage program should and will always put saké front and center, but we’re trying to create something balanced and full of surprises. We want to make sure that our guests are able to order luxe bottles of Grand Cru Burgundy, yet pour a cheeky splash of sparkling sake to pair with a spoonful of frozen, powdered foie gras. There’s something about the unexpected, or even the counterintuitive, that can make any dining experience a fun one.
BMG: How has the rise of Japanese whisky impacted O Ya’s bar?
TK: Japanese whisky is suffering from Pappy Van Winkle syndrome at the moment, compounded with the cost of actually shipping it here. What I mean is that it’s way more in demand than there is product to satisfy that need, with no end in sight. Don’t get me wrong; it’s incredible stuff. We charge what it costs us at O Ya, and people drink it, no matter the price tag. Therefore, for me the hunt continues.
BMG: O Ya’s drinks program is propelled by spirits like Japanese whisky and shochu. How do you encourage guests for whom this is new territory?
TK: Synonyms are usually a good start. You usually drink Scotch? Let’s lean toward Hakushu. More desserty like an old bourbon? How about Nikka 17-year-old. Vodka? Rice shochu. Weird things? Buckwheat shochu. Orienting people makes them comfortable.
BMG: Covina, which just opened last month, has a stone pizza oven as its culinary centerpiece. What is the mission of the 20-seat bar?
TK: That our guests can walk in having no idea what they actually want, but knowing that we can provide it. I’m most excited about the off-menu cocktails we’re prepared to make. The goal is for anyone to be able to order a stand-by drink and be floored by our version of it. We hope to appeal to the neighborhood, the hotel, the savvy diner, the wine lover, the cocktail geek, or just someone who needs dinner.
BMG: What does a restaurant bar specifically need to pay careful attention to?
TK: When a menu has a drink on it that doesn’t make sense to have before dinner. Do I want my bartenders to make creative egg and egg white cocktails? Of course, and they’ll often find their way to a menu, just probably not the one that gets handed to everyone upon walking through the front door. We’re not here to serve drinks, we’re here to serve people, and frequently those people are having dinner after we make them drinks. We should be conscientious of that.
BMG: Bartenders constantly speak of hospitality’s importance, but what do you think is most often forgotten in this realm?
TK: Empathy. Remembering that everyone who walks up to your bar is human and to assume nothing. We don’t know what they’re here for or what kind of day they’ve had. We greet our guests with questions: “Hello, having dinner at Covina? O Ya? Fantastic.” The quicker we can get to the bottom of what our guests are joining us for, the quicker we can start tailoring their experience. It’s an approach that’s not celebrated as much as it should be.