Watertrade Introduces Bar Snacks Menu with Caviar, Funyuns, Tempura & More
Chef Yoshi Okai and Bar Manager Nadia Hernandez bring creativity to the South Congress Hotel’s bar
By Laurel Miller
If it’s been a hot minute since you’ve dined (or imbibed) indoors but you’re ready to reinstate this little luxury, Watertrade in the South Congress Hotel is implementing the extra steps to ensure you’re about to do it safely.
The moody, elegant bar sharing space with omakase restaurant Otoko has always been open to the public, but it’s tucked-away locale in a hotel makes it something of a well-kept secret. While Watertrade reopened in October, the bar program has recently undergone some major changes, including the departure of bar team Whitney Hazelmyer and Ricky Cobia. Their protégé Nadia Hernandez now manages the bar, continuing to offer sophisticated cocktails categorized by flavor profile (“Zesty, citrusy, smokey”; “Umami, smooth, savory”).
“Some of the ingredients that are used for the omakase drinks are inspired from new ways to integrate byproducts of fruit and tea,” Hernandez says. “They change almost weekly through research and development, and it’s been a real driving force in my creativity.”
Also new to Watertrade is an abbreviated bar snacks menu, created by 2017 Food & Wine Best New Chef Yoshi Okai. The rotating offerings includes caviar sets served with sansho-dusted “funyuns,” chives and tofu crème fraiche, zensai (appetizer) bites like escargot with potato chips, shiso and nanbanzuke (pickled carrots and chiles) and dishes like Otoko’s signature seared Hamachi sashimi with smoked tamari and binchotan, and vegetable tempura. The bites are meant to be paired with cocktails or flights.
“I’ve been pestering Yoshi to put something like this out into the world since I first started,” says Otoko Manager Billy Weston. “Obviously, Covid-19 has created unique challenges … but it has also presented some unique opportunities as well. … When we discussed opening the restaurant back up after closure, planning the most practical and safe way to do so became central to our conversations. The same was true of the bar. Part of the mandates from the state surrounding bars operating was the requirement to offer food, thus the food menu in Watertrade was born.”
To maximize customer and staff safety, Watertrade is offering two seating’s (5:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, staggered between two seatings for Otoko diners; the bar isn’t otherwise open to general public at this time), so the space can be sanitized in between. The bar seating is closed. Instead, intimate tables seating up to four have been tucked away, in some cases separated by Japanese screens, in the corners of the bar.
Also new to Watertrade are rotating “No Waste” cocktails like the Pretty Bird (Teeda Japanese Rum, Plantation Rum Stiggins Fancy Pineapple Rum, Leopold Bros Aperitivo, sudachi juice, pineapple, shiso simple syrup, served with a stainless straw). The program was inspired by the Japanese expression – derived from a Buddhist philosophy – of mottainai, used to express regret regarding the squandering of resources (“What a waste!”).
For the No Waste program, Hernandez reuses and repurposes cocktail ingredients like the Pretty Bird’s garnish, which includes pineapple fronds and dehydrated fruit left over from juicing (used in a different drink). The peel is used to make a lightly fermented drink of Mexican origin.
Watertrade’s collection of sakes and Japanese gins and whiskies (the bar has the largest selection in Texas of the latter), with customized flights available.