Why Star Bartender Julia Momose Is Embracing Mocktails

© Galdones Photography

By Elyse Inamine Posted March 10, 2017

F&W's Best New Mixologist 2016 talks about her surprising next move.

It all started with a cocktail in the elevator. “A little welcome drink, something for people who weren’t drinking alcohol. That was my creation,” says bartender Julia Momose.

It was a green tea, spiced with juniper and green cardamom and splashed with soda and lemon oil, handed to guests as they arrived at Oriole in Chicago, the critical darling from chef Noah Sandoval.

“I created a number of cocktails there,” Momose says. “I was just helping out.”

Now “helping out” is turning into something a little more. The rising star got her start at The Aviary and won praise for most recent stint as the head bartender at Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon’s GreenRiver. But she left the blockbuster bar in December without a plan—“GreenRiver was a great experience, but it wasn’t the place for me in the long run,” says Momose. She first met Sandoval when he was at Senza, and they kept in touch once he opened Oriole just a year ago. Texts about flavor combinations in the interim led to a job offer. Now, she’s slowly but surely making her mark on the cocktail menu at Oriole, and first she’s tackling the non-alcoholic beverages, which launch next week.

Food & Wine: Oriole Mocktail Pairings

© Sammy Faze Photography

“I grew up in Kyoto, and my family doesn’t drink at all,” says Momose. “But my mom was always hosting people, so we drank a lot of tea and coffee. I learned early on to make sure there was something for everyone.”

That inclusive ethos runs through her collaboration with the Oriole crew, from evolving her cocktails as Sandoval’s intricate dishes do to moonlighting as a hostess this past week when one was scheduled to remove her wisdom teeth. And it all makes for great testing grounds for the experience Momose wants to share with guests. Playing with Rare Tea Cellar’s Black Canadian Iced Wine Elixir for a drink to mimic a lush red wine inspired Sandoval to go the extra mile and cure the intended squab dish in the tea. Greeting guests as a host reminded her of the importance of saying hello.

Momose might not have a physical bar here at Oriole—her workstation is a polishing center for glasses—but it’s the perfect home base for her liquid experiments.

Food & Wine: Oriole Mocktail Pairings

© Sammy Faze Photography

Of her nonalcohlic drinks, she’s most excited to share her take on amazake, a sweet rice drink that kids sip for dessert in Japan. A bit of green tea adds a floral note and lends an almost sake-like flavor.

Soon, she’ll add more drinks with alcohol and eventually take over the whole cocktail program.

"When I was leaving GreenRiver, I was like I'm at your disposal. I wanted to be part of what they were doing at Oriole," says Momose. "Noah and I have been working together for quite a while, and we're kind of similar in the direction we're going, but our backgrounds are very different. The end result is the best of both of us, which is really cool."

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