Not long before bartender Adam Fournier helped open the NoMad Hotel in Los Angeles, he spent a week in Tokyo. It was his first trip to Japan and now, nearly a year later, that vacation is still proving a formative experience.
“I’ve always been a fan of the culture, but going there and actually being there and being able to walk through the city for an entire week—it hit me at the right time where my palate was expanding in a different way,” says Fournier, who is the hotel’s bar manager.
When he returned to Los Angeles, the talented bartender found that not only did he have a newfound appreciation for a variety of Japanese foods and flavors, but also for his local outpost of the Mitsuwa Marketplace.
Just a couple of blocks from his home, Mitsuwa includes a Japanese grocery store and a connected cafeteria space where Fournier likes to go for ramen, tempura, and—his favorite—donuts.
“What’s really fantastic about it for me is the plethora of flavors that seem to pop up there that are both uniquely Japanese, but also seem to blend seamlessly into California and cuisine as a whole,” he says. “It’s somewhere that I find myself going back to more and more for inspiration for cocktails or flavor profiles or food pairings.”
Over the past year or so, Fournier has been working out how to incorporate all kinds of Japanese ingredients from Mitsuwa into his cocktails. This includes more obvious items like sake, Japanese style soju, plum liqueurs, teas, and syrups, to decidedly more challenging fresh fruits and vegetables, and unusual prepackaged foods.
“Bitter melon is one of my favorite ingredients that I’ve come across in a long time,” he says, adding that he uses them as a replacement for cocktail bitters. “They can add a balancing bitterness for a stirred drink similar to Angostura Bitters, while adding a freshness that’s really unexpected.”
He and his team at NoMad have also been working on a bitter melon kombucha, using it similarly to how they might use beer in a cocktail for added effervescence.
Also on his roster for experimentation are salted plum paste (“great for a palate cleanser”) and de-shelled soft roasted chestnuts (“I’ve had a lot of success doing infusions or making syrups out of those”). And he’s still figuring out how he might incorporate Japanese sweet potatoes into a drink.
While there’s nothing on the current NoMad drinks menu using the ingredients Fournier has discovered at Mitsuwa, that day is not far off.
Leo Robitschek, the NoMad’s managing partner and bar director, was recently in Los Angeles and “he came up with this great idea for a nori-infused vermouth and seaweed gin milk punch, which really ended up tasting like a Japanese rice puff dessert,” says Fournier. Of course, nothing is added to a NoMad menu in haste. “We’re putting it through the gauntlet and doing a lot of R&D. You can expect to see things like that coming up on the menu soon.”
In the meantime, the Japanese marketplace continues to inspire the cocktails Fournier creates and his obsession with being a little more adventurous with his flavors and ingredients.
“It’s one of the most wonderfully Japanese places in the country,” says Fournier. “That’s kind of what I really like about this market—to be able to look at it and see something that’s really authentic. It’s just an opportunity to play and learn.”