Bartender Chat: Dale Ellington of Kata Robata
Welcome to Eating...Our Words' Bartender Chat, in which we sit down with local bartenders and get to know their style. Whether they're slinging beers or mixing complex cocktails, bartenders are our buddies and confidants, but we're turning the tables and the camera on them to find out what they're passionate about and what makes them some of Houston's best.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg "Can I look into the light thoughtfully?" "Sure, Dale."
Kata Robata does so much more than sushi. The ramen is some of the best in a town still searching for ideal ramen. The lobster mac and cheese makes any other mac and cheese seem subpar. And the beverage program includes sake cocktails that will knock your socks off.
Steven Salazar is the beverage director for Kata Robata, and he's turned the bar into a well-oiled machine that pumps out delightfully unique cocktails to pair with the restaurant's alternately traditional and cutting-edge Japanese food. Dale Ellington is his protégé and partner in crime, and together the two are mixing up playful and innovative drinks, sure to keep people who think they know Kata Robata guessing.
Here, Dale talks to us about his role at Kata Robata, wine versus sake and why he hates White Russians.
How long have you been bartending?
I took some time off from working in restaurants, but maybe a total of six years or so?
What were you doing before that?
I was managing Book People in Austin for a while, and then I decided to throw my hat into the catering business while I was there. I found out that cooking, for me, is better as an evocation than a vocation. It started killing my passion. Oddly enough, I got back into front-of-the-house restaurant stuff working at Uchi here in Houston when they first opened. Two years later, I ended up over here, and it's been a bit of a revelation.
How long have you been at Kata Robata?
Since June of 2013. Steven [Salazar, the beverage director] and I hit it off immediately, and he was really eager to get me behind the bar. I had bartended before, but it was mainly tapping kegs and popping caps. The most creative thing was coming up with yet another permutation on a margarita.
What do you like to drink?
The Nanban Trade, a cold-weather drink invented by Ellington and Salazar.
My favorite thing to drink is wine. I have a ton of wine at home. I never have to go out after work, but sometimes you just don't want to go home.
When you're not here, where do you go to drink?
I go to Camerata. I drink whatever they foist on me there, because it's always good. In the warm months, I'm drinking lighter-bodied wines, typically white wines and rosés. Right now, I'm on a Shiraz/Syrah kick.
A person walks into a bar and orders _______. He/she has your instant respect.
I wish more of our clientele would indulge in wine. Our beverage program is amazing, and our mixed drinks have a place in it. What I try to do in the most sensitive way possible is say, "Think of this wine as a condiment for your meal." You can have an after-dinner drink, but this is what I wish people would order.
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