Behind the Bar: Linda Q. Chu at Sens Asian Tapas & Sake Bar

Linda Q. Chu doesn't just serve the numerous cocktails, martinis and saketinis at Sens Asain Tapas & Sake Bar--she also invented them.

As an ASU graduate in international business, the restaurant industry wasn't even on Chu's radar. But her career path wasn't a change of mind so much as a change of heart--fate, if you will (or rather, the owner of downtown's now-defunct Fate restaurant, Johnny Chu).

As their relationship became more serious, Linda became more involved in his restaurant. She created the drink menu for Fate's outside bar Next Door, and when Johnny split to open Sens, Linda took over all things drinkable, creating the menu, training the employees, and managing the bar as well as tending it.

While her role has evolved into more bar managing than drink mixing, Linda Q. Chu is determined to keep the drink quality up to the highest standard (hers) by monitoring her employees' technique.

"Once in awhile I'll taste their martinis to make sure they're done correctly," she says. "We're not robots, sometimes we forget."

With Sens' unique and sometimes complex drink preparations, forgetting even the smallest detail (like mashing ginger at the bottom the glass for too long) can ruin the beverage.

The drink menu at Sens is rather astounding considering Chu's modest amount of bar experience. Sens' offers creations you can't find anywhere else in the Valley, like the "Shooga Wasabi," which contains actual wasabi paste, and the "Sweet Chili," (another deliciously spicy concoction that we'll post the recipe for on Chow Bella tomorrow).

What you won't find on Sens' menu is anything that requires simple syrup (they don't even have it!), or any sticky sweet liquid you may have purchased from a tray of test tubes in a Scottsdale nightclub.

"When I make our martinis I want to make sure they're not 'candy' martinis like the really fruity, sweet drinks because I don't think that complements our menu," says Chu.

The current menu includes 12 house martinis and eight saketinis (martinis containing sake, in layman's terms), but Chu is preparing to expand the selection in a week or so with what she describes as "more classic cocktails, but with a twist."

Chu also plans to add another 20 sakes to their current collection of about 80 (seriously, 80 different sakes). Chu is passionate about bringing sake literacy to the Valley and takes great pleasure in sharing her knowledge.

"Part of the fun is explaining to people what the different types of sake are and getting to know what their palate is," she says. "It's just like wine; every singe one is different. Once you get to know what they enjoy you can pick that right one for them."

Sens offers four main types of sake: junmai, ginjo, daiginjo and nigori (an unfiltered sake). Each type can vary substantially depending on the maker, affecting how dry, acidic, fruity or fragrant the sake tastes.

If the endless possibilities intimidate your untrained palate, Chu and the staff at Sens are happy to choose a sake for you that compliments your meal, or you can take Chu's advice and start simple.

"Just like wine you can build your palate," she says. "Work from the easiest to drink and then try the more complex ones later. For a beginner, we recommend junmai."

Whether helping customers order their very first sake or creating new cocktail concepts, for Chu, nothing compares to the feeling of a drink well done.

"The satisfaction of knowing that people do enjoy what you're putting out there or what's on the menu is the best part for me. They don't have to say it; it's just on their face. When you see people smile or share their drinks, that's a good sign."

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Adriane Goetz