Raymundo “Mundo” Delgado has never been to Japan, but it’s on his to-do list. His new 11-cocktail menu at PABU, an izakaya and sushi bar created by chefs Ken Tominaga and Michael Mina, is all about the Japan Rail Pass, a rail pass for foreigners wanting to explore the country. The menu mimics the rail pass itself, borrowing its iconic image of cherry blossoms set against Mt. Fuji and a blue sky. Each drink is named after a different route, and costs $15 (with the exception of the Joban Line, which costs $17).
The PABU Rail Pass is taking over where PABU’s previous Street Fighter menu used to be. For this iteration, Delgado wanted to create something that was a bit sweeter, a bit more drinkable — more of a crowd pleaser. As always, Delgado wants to create something “to talk about, something to share.”
Shareable is definitely one way to describe the cocktails. If you take a brief look at Delgado’s Instagram, you’ll see why the drinks are so social media friendly: His past creations have included gold leaf, sculpted colored ice, flowers clipped onto the side of a glass with a miniature clothespin.
The PABU Rail Pass is no different. The Keihin-Tohoku Line is an electric Gatorade blue. Under PABU’s ambient lighting, it looks like if you liquified Rocking Blue Raspberry gushers and made them glow. This drink is topped with baby’s breath for a really mystical look. The cocktail itself is slightly tart and floral, composed of Zephyr gin, lime, spirulina, and dolin blanc.
Other drinks are equally colorful, which was Delgado’s intent. “We’re going to add all the colors to the winter,” he says.
Take the Sanyo Line, for example, which has shōchū, sake, Calpico, and strawberry syrup. When served individually (it’s meant to be in a pitcher for sharing, but PABU hasn’t implemented that part of the menu quite yet), the Sanyo Line is topped with a frozen, heart-shaped fruit cup and pink and purple globes of ice. The drink itself tastes like a fragrant punch, or a melted popsicle. “I wanted this cocktail to taste like Hello Kitty,” Delgado says.
It’s questionable whether or not Hello Kitty as a cocktail is actually a pleasant concept. But it’s clear that there’s a very definite theme when it comes to flavor of these drinks: Most of them are really sweet. They’re the kind of cocktails that are super easy to down without a second thought, pausing if only to snap a quick photo. They’re definitely pretty enough for the spotlight.
One cocktail that diverges from the candy-sweet profile is the Joban Line, which is like Delgado’s spin on a Manhattan. With Hibiki Harmony whiskey, cynar, and dry vermouth, you don’t have to search for the liquor in this cocktail, though it’s still lightly sweetened with amaretto. This cocktail is also flavored with smoke from the Mizunara Oak, which is used to build barrels for whiskey aging. The Mizunara Oak can be finicky to work with — its high moisture content and porous nature, among other factors, make it difficult to fashion into barrels. “The trees have to be over 200 years old before you can even touch them,” Delgado says. But whiskey producers eventually came around to it for the same reason why Delgado uses it in the Joban Line: The oak’s aroma is floral and fruity.
Delgado got the idea to use the Mizunara one day simply by looking in his kitchen. He saw that the box his Yamazaki whiskey was packaged in was actually made of Mizunara wood, and thought, why not? Into the drink it went.
PABU, 101 California St.