Shinji’s is the definition of finesse. As the sibling bar to New York’s Michelin-starred omakase restaurant Noda, the venue is a seamless extension of the intricate dining experience that defines its neighbor. From the inventive, interactive cocktail service to the sumptuous hand rolls deftly assembled tableside, Shinji’s puts hospitality at the forefront, and it’s all under the watchful eye of the talismanic octopus perched atop the backbar.
“At its core, Shinji’s is a cocktail bar where we serve drinks based on modern culinary techniques,” says beverage director Jonathan Adler. “But by design, they are fun and interactive without the technique being in the guest’s face.”
The bar’s menu boasts a range of clever pre-batched drinks poured from custom-labeled bottles into elegant glassware. There’s the lavish Sidecar accompanied by a foie gras tartlet, for example, and the dirty Martini paired with a cheeky “bump” of umami powder (pulverized freeze-dried olives, olive leaves and green Sichuan peppercorns). Instead of listing the many ingredients that go into each cocktail, Adler opts for minimalism on the menu, forgoing wordy descriptions. “If a guest asks me what’s in the Tropicana, I can tell them the 10 different ingredients that go into making it,” says Adler of one of the bar’s most creative drinks. “But it’s a lot easier to explain that it tastes like an orange Creamsicle and is served inside of a real orange.”
The Tropicana, a high-concept take on a Screwdriver, is inspired by and named after the classic American orange juice brand. “The nostalgia of remembering Tropicana’s old advertisement and always wanting to be able to push a straw through an orange and drink out of it was quite strong for me as a child,” says Adler, who developed the drink to evoke the same feeling from the bar’s guests. The highly technical cocktail encapsulates the essence of Shinji’s playful approach to drink development.
Building the Tropicana began with its service vessel: a gutted, frozen orange that houses a hollow ice sphere. That may seem like a simple endeavor, yet it was anything but—it took the bar team 18 months of R&D to nail down the final product. “The first stage was figuring out how to construct the orange itself, which wasn’t too difficult, but scaling up [and maintaining consistency] was a long and arduous process,” Adler explains.
Once the bar team scoops out the pulp, reserving it for use in a different drink, they fill the hollow orange peel with a water balloon (later removed) to create the inner ice shell that is set to hold the cocktail. Rather than use a standard freezer, which takes more time and leads to inconsistent ice thickness, Adler turns to a blast freezer, rapidly bringing down the temperature within an hour. To make the vessel service-ready, the bar uses a small hole punch to cut out a hole near the top before pushing a hot soldering iron through it to dump out any remaining water.
The cocktail inside the orange vessel is equally complex. The base is a housemade orange liqueur blending Haku vodka, Grand Marnier, orange peels and dextrose (an artificial sweetener commonly used in foods), which gets added to a bag and macerated with slices of orange under a vacuum. The technique, known as vacuum maceration, uses the change in atmospheric pressure to boil the liquid at room temperature, retaining the integrity of the ingredients to get the flavor of the fruit without overdiluting the liqueur. He uses the same method to combine Toki whisky, tropical mangoes and glucose into an ingredient that adds structure to the drink, lending a mouthfeel that he says mimics that of orange pulp.
From there, Adler dialed in the nostalgia factor. “I always knew I wanted to use vanilla as a secondary note in the drink, since it evokes flavors of orange Creamsicle and eating Flintstones push pops when I was a kid,” he says. When an early iteration of the drink lacked nuance, Adler decided to infuse vanilla-forward Licor 43 with thyme for “an herbaceous note that really plays off the flavors of citrus.” To amplify the liqueur, he created a hojicha green tea–vanilla syrup, which offers the cocktail a layered vanilla flavor beyond the typical sweet high note. Lactic acid solution gives the drink a silkier texture, while bright orange and lemon juices and savory liquid shio koji provide more balanced flavors to the shaken mix.
When the Tropicana is delivered to guests, the prepared orange arrives resting in a glass goblet, nestled into pebble ice and garnished with two orange leaves. Of course, the cocktail is served with the iconic red-and-white straw reminiscent of the orange juice ad.
The drink has become Shinji’s most popular menu item. “After initially taking photos and videos, as people always do these days, they are constantly delighted by the nostalgia and simplicity of the drink, not to mention it being absolutely delicious,” says Adler. “I can’t imagine ever taking it off the menu.”