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A Splash of the Big Apple for Vancouver’s Cherry Blossom Season

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Master mixologist Masahiro Urushido has brought the flair that has won his Katana Kitten many accolades to Fairmont Pacific Rim for a spring pop-up menu. Among the creations you can savour is the Sakura Highball, made in honour of Vancouver’s cherry blossoms. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

When Masahiro Urushido is asked to pose for a photo with one of his signature highball creations, he stops and says one word before racing back to the bar in the Lobby Lounge of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel. The lone word is “Ice.”

Urushido is one of the world’s most revered mixologists and his take on Asian-inspired highballs — a go-to libation in Japan and Korea — have helped land his Katana Kitten in the top 10 of the World’s 50 Best Cocktail Bars, and the No. 1 establishment in the entire United States. Katana Kitten has caused ripples since it debuted in SoHo in 2019.

His notoriety drew the attention of the Fairmont Pacific Rim and its own team of award-winning cocktail-makers. A collaboration emerged and Urushido landed in Vancouver to partner with the leaders of the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Botanist. On April 20, a “cocktails and bites” menu launched to celebrate Urushido’s drinks that have been made specifically for the Vancouver market. Among them is the Sakura Highball, a pretty drink made to honour the city’s cherry blossoms that are in full bloom in spring. It is made with Long Table vodka, pacari, salted cherry blossom cordial and soda water, and served in a classic ale mug with a pink carnation rising from the glass. And, there’s the ice.

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The lovely Sakura Highball, served at Fairmont Pacific Rim, comes adorned with a pink carnation. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

It is the key to a highball and Urushido wanted to make sure he had a perfect amount for a photo of his creation. According to Kindred Spirits Cocktails, “A clear, large ice cube will melt more slowly and avoid diluting the cocktail, messing with the ideal ratio. It also looks so amazing with clear ice cubes.”

Jeff Savage, the head bartender at Botanist, also credits Urushido’s ingredient-focused approach to the success of his drinks.

“I think that ice is really important in a highball, but being that it is such a simple recipe, I think that every element is equally important — the right whisky, a well-chilled, and well-carbonated soda water, and perhaps just the right amount of zest from your preferred citrus. At Botanist we have had fun unpacking what a highball really is, and doing so has made some really fun and delicious cocktails appear on our menu. At its core, a highball is something served tall, is refreshing, and showcases the ingredients really well,” says Savage, a winner of a Canadian national bartending competition. “Masa’s Sakura Highball is a really good example of this — the simplicity of using a local vodka, a splash of lemon, soda, and a salted sakura cordial to come together and make something incredibly refreshing and nuanced is central to what I perceive his style of cocktail to be.” 

The appreciation worked both ways as Urushido expressed praise for the products he found at Fairmont Pacific Rim, especially the “fabulous” yuzu, the citrus fruit popular in Australasia. It was sourced from Japan and used in Urushido’s Watini, a take on the gin-and-vermouth martini that features koji and ao-togarashi. He also had the chance to tour the city with Savage.

“I was pretty fortunate that we really got along well, and I was able to show him around the city a bit,” Savage notes. “We went to a few different bars and restaurants, went for a hike with my dog, and checked out the beach and Granville Island Market. I really appreciate someone who approaches life with the zeal that Masa does — plus, anyone my dog immediately adores is definitely someone worth knowing.”

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Among the Lobby Lounge bites served with the Katana Kitten cocktail menu are chilled Dungeness crab rolls and Korean-inspired Furikake chicken. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Urushido spent a week in Vancouver, which included a three-night cocktail-paired dinner at Botanist. His menu in the Lobby Lounge and Raw Bar will run through May and will sit alongside creations from the Fairmont Pacific Rim team.

“Katana Kitten cocktails lean heavily into Japanese ingredients and Japanese lore. My cocktails at Botanist are heavily derived from the Pacific Northwest and my experiences in it. We have the same ideas around drinks, just with different inspirations and different cultural backgrounds,” Savage says.

The hotel also has an ongoing exhibit of Douglas Coupland’s artwork, with cocktails to match. Coupland has put his touch on old Clint Eastwood photographs and two drinks — the rye whiskey-based Clint and the Dirty Harry, similar to a dirty martini — are inspired by the Hollywood legend.

More Vancouver Food & Drink News

NOX to Debut: A fine Italian restaurant promises to be one of the talks of Vancouver this year. Nox is the brainchild of chef Sam Fabbro and restaurateur Alejandro Diaz, the duo that earned great praise for New Westminster favourite
el Santo. Nox is expected to open its doors in May.

Laowai Team to Expand: The sensational Chinatown speakeasy that debuted last summer is already planning a second venture. Owner Lewis Hart says an Indian-focused cocktail lounge, Bagheera, will open in the fall and provide a venue for all of those craving more Laowai. The Shanghai-inspired lounge regularly sees four-hour wait times for tables on weekend nights.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.