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  • Writer's pictureSteven Keith

Kita Modern Japanese jumps on the mocktail trend

Updated: Apr 4

First it was craft pizza, then came craft beer. Both culinary trends took the country by storm years ago and never looked back.


The "Oolong for You" mocktail from Kita Modern Japanese
The "Oolong for You" mocktail from Kita Modern Japanese






Fancy cocktails have enjoyed a similar trajectory in recent years, popping up everywhere from swanky steakhouses and boujee bistros to your local sports bar and grill.


What more, their explosion in popularity helped usher in a whole new appreciation of creative libation combinations. Fruity and fabulous, spicy and seductive, tart and herbaceous, savory and sweet. You can sip those combinations and more at many places now – in all their tajin-rimmed, lychee-kissed, rosemary-spiked, high-octane glory.


"Peach Margarita" mocktail from Kita
"Peach Margarita" mocktail from Kita

But there’s a growing number of Americans who want to enjoy those unique flavors without the undesirable after-effects alcohol leaves behind. The “Rise of the Mocktail” is here.


To jump on that trend, Kita Modern Japanese hired a professional food-and-drink consultant to roll out a new menu of zero-proof cocktails now available at its Southridge restaurant.


The new drinks were developed with the help of Jonathan Tilley, a hometown Charleston boy who worked at NGK Spark Plugs before moving away to become an actor and stuntman in the entertainment industry.


He also worked as a bartender at upscale restaurants in Orlando and Atlanta before moving back to West Virginia.


Tilley told me it’s been exciting to work with Kita on this growing mocktail trend, but quite challenging as well. Just as with cocktails – perhaps even more so – it takes a lot of practicing and perfecting to craft an appealing mocktail with flavors big enough that customers won’t miss, well, what is missing.


Mountain Momma from Kita
Mountain Momma from Kita

One of his secrets is using zero-proof liquors that are made without ever having alcohol in them, rather than most brands that remove the alcohol during processing. He believes the former process provides a cleaner, fresher taste with each drink.


After getting the chance to try Kita’s first four mocktails last week during another stellar dinner there with the fam, I’d have to say I agree.


Could I tell they weren’t made with boozy alcohol? In most cases, yes. They didn’t pack that initial punch I enjoy in a nice stiff drink. But were they light, refreshing and delicious? Also yes!


I loved the “Oolong for You” with zero-proof tequila, lychee oolong tea, peach syrup and lemon juice, and featuring a healthy pour of ginger beer the “Not So Stormy” – with its zero-proof rum, lime and mint – was the closest tasting to its boozy inspiration.


We really enjoyed the bright flavor profile of the “Peach Margarita” with zero-proof tequila, peach syrup, lime and housemade sour mix, but it was the one that least mimicked the original. As a fresh and fruity drink it’s nice, but it needs a little more zing (maybe the lift of more lime or tangier sour mix) to add enough heft to make it drink like a “drink.”


"Pina Colada" mocktail from Kita
"Pina Colada" mocktail from Kita

On the other hand, the “Pina Colada” with zero-proof rum, pineapple juice and crème of coconut was a hit BECAUSE of its lightness, providing the intoxicating combination of the tropics without the intoxicating liquor or the thick, heavy consistency that sits so heavy after a traditional colada or two.


They were all worthy pairings with some of our favorite Kita dishes like the crispy Hanabi rice cake with spicy tuna, scallions and masago; the Mountain Momma with crab, avocado, spicy mayo and eel; sweet soy-glazed pork belly on tonkatsu grits and crispy onions; and pan-seared, garlic-butter salmon topped with lemongrass pesto.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here:

Kita consistently provides some of the best food, drinks, service and atmosphere anywhere.


Located at 2815 Mountaineer Blvd. at Southridge, Kita Modern Japanese is currently open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 304-205-5200 or check out the restaurant’s Facebook page.              


West Virginia’s favorite cocktail is …


From mocktails to cocktails, here are the results of a recent national survey that I’m sharing with a healthy shot of speculation.


I was definitely slacking on the job when I missed National Cocktail Day on March 24, but I’ll mark it now by passing along the results when sports betting site BetVirginia.com analyzed Google search volume for each state to determine the most popular cocktails in all 50 of ’em.


Fried and glazed ribs from Kita
Fried and glazed ribs from Kita

Based on those findings, they claim the top three cocktails in the Mountain State – in order – are the Moscow Mule, the Espresso Martini and the Manhattan. While all three are mighty fine drinks, I find it difficult to believe those are the most craved and consumed cocktails in West Virginia.


It’s constantly reported that the venerable Margarita is America’s most popular cocktail, but it appeared at the top of only one state list (and was in the top three drinks for only eight states) in BetVirginia’s rankings.


I’m calling a foul.


Nationwide, the Manhattan was the run-away favorite in their survey, followed by an Old-Fashioned, Martini and Cosmo, with nothing else really coming close.


Others scoring fewer points include the aforementioned Margarita, plus the Bees Knees, Whiskey Sour, Sarerac, Mai Tai, Paloma, Negroni, French 75, Aperol Spritz, Sidecar, Mojito and Penicillin.


• • •


Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.

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