The yuzu kumquat cooler from Nobu is a wonderful respite from the muggy Houston summer. Getting to the restaurant, the 39th location of the sushi empire from chef Nobu Matsuhisa and actor Robert DeNiro, requires navigating the Galleria, but it’s worth it, especially once you’ve snagged a seat at the sleek bar, with the delightfully refreshing drink—orbs of muddled kumquat floating in its tall, curved glass—in front of you.
“It’s a Nobu thing,” says bar director and Houston native Austin Miller. His seven-member team prepares this cooler like a mojito—muddling kumquat and mint together, and topping the concoction off with a splash of soda water—but this drink calls for vodka instead of rum. The recipe also includes a simple syrup made from antioxidant-rich Thai monkfruit instead of sugar, plus a shot of vibrant Japanese yuzu juice. The taste will send you reeling back to the first time you ever peeled and ate an orange.
The drink has fewer calories than a typical mojito, and the zing of yuzu and kumquat alone could raise the dead—or, at least, anybody who’s spent the day being dragged around the Galleria by a shopaholic. And if you’re thinking a trip to this renowned eatery is a little too intimidating and pricey? Think again.
“We’re Nobu,” Miller says. “We’re in rap songs. But we’re not trying to be too big for our britches.” The happy-hour bar-bites menu features riffs on Nobu classics in the $8 to $10 range, including the perfect pairings for the tangy cooler: salty, crunchy rice cubes with whipped, buttery yellowtail, and silken yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, which packs a fiery punch.
Those who aren't down with fruity Japanese libations and sake martinis should know that Miller is bringing a local’s perspective to the bar program, as well. “It’s fun trying to infuse a little Texas in it,” he says. He’s working on new drinks using spirits from the Lone Star State and adding rotating taps of Houston beers that will be unique to this Nobu location alone.
“It’s a happy balance,” he says.