Whiskey is not the drink that most comes to mind as a pairing with Japanese food. (Apart from legions of Lost in Translation fans, of course, for whom Suntori whiskey is permanently wedded to Japanese culture in their imaginations.) No, far more common for the average patron is sake a beer or even a sparkling wine. Nevertheless, at Haruki East in Providence’s Wayland Square, whiskey is more or less king.
Michael Yang, a longtime bartender and waiter at the restaurant, tried to make sense of the surprising preference for me. “Well,” he said, after pausing for a think, “we have a lot of guests who are just sophisticated about cocktails. They want to drink what they want to drink” regardless of whether what they want to drink happens to be a traditional pairing with a maki roll or miso soup. And in terms of the East Side crowd, increasingly what they want to drink is a good whiskey – often neat, but sometimes in a cocktail.
One of the most popular whiskey cocktails is a very streamlined, subtly Japanese-inflected version of the classic Old Fashioned. To the standard whiskey, muddled orange, cherry and bitters, Haruki’s bar team adds a good hit of Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. “It lifts the drink,” Michael explains, and also echoes the ginger that is so omnipresent in sushi and other Japanese dishes.
It’s been on the menu for about a year, and if its popularity is any indication, it’ll stay there for quite awhile. For Old Fashioned devotees, it’s an especially nice change of pace as the weather heats up, with a little more sprightliness than the original standby.
The Japanese Old Fashioned
Normally Haruki uses Jim Beam as the bourbon, but Michael recommends Knob Creek as well for the amplified spice that it adds.
1-2 orange slices (one to muddle, one for optional garnish)
1 tsp raw cane sugar, or to taste
4-5 dashes of orange bitters, such as Angostura
1 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
2 oz bourbon of choice
In a cocktail shaker, muddle one orange slice with raw cane sugar and bitters. Add the ginger liqueur, then a scoop of ice and the bourbon. Stir to blend – don’t shake – then strain into a chilled rocks glass with ice. Keep the muddled orange slice, however! It adds great depth of flavor.
When serving, it’s preferable to use large-cut ice rather than the standard stuff to prevent dilution. Top with the cherry and the second, un-muddled orange slice if desired.
172 Wayland Avenue