Smuggler’s Cove Mai Tai

Mrs Mai Tai and I were in the city last week celebrating our anniversary including dinner at Absinthe. We arrived early enough and visited Smuggler’s Cove nearby for some before-dinner-drinks. Very nice to sit at the bar and watch the amazing bartending skills of Steven Liles who treated us so well.

With so many highest quality cocktails at the Cove, I really should try something new, but damn if I can’t not get the Mai Tai. Still one of the best I’ve ever tried, so I had to have one.

Notable for me in comparison to some Mai Tais I’ve had elsewhere recently was how much I appreciate the rich and funky flavor of the Denizen Merchant’s Reserve rum that’s used in the SC Mai Tai. While not overpowering, this rum does punch through a bit more than the rum blends I’ve had recently, and in my opinion provides a more flavorful cocktail that is so much better.

Though, given the type of bar that Smuggler’s Cove is they can and should do different things than a bar in the suburbs and being patronized by a broader crowd that are tiki newbies or more into wine than cocktails.

Every year we track the Top 10 Mai Tais we’ve had over the past 12 months. I don’t want to spoil the countdown, but it is now a foregone conclusion that the Cove is going to be represented well. Very, very well.

Worthy Park Special Barrel Series

Got to try this new special release of Worthy Park Jamaica Rum. Aged 14 years, the oldest in Worthy Park’s collection, and available as a special release with Smuggler’s Cove where you can taste the rum and purchase a bottle. You can also purchase at K&L Wines.

This aged rum is bottled at cask strength and you’re going to taste the flavor in ever sip. This rum has a higher ester count than I recall from other Worthy Park releases.

If you’re a nut for Jamaica Rum, you’ll want to give this a try if you can. It’ll be gone soon.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Rum

There’s a nice case of vintage Trader Vic’s bottles in the Cook Room at the Emeryville location.

This shot is of the Mai Tai Rum, which combined rums from Jamaica (70%), Martinique (20%), and Virgin Islands (10%), and coming in at a very nice 43% ABV. Likely a great rum to put in your Mai Tai (or your “Mai-Tai” according to the label, sigh). Man, I’d love to try some of this.

Wilfred’s Lounge Layout and Decor

There are several distinct sections within Wilfred’s Lounge, including a small dining room off to the left when you enter. There are a few 2 and 4 top tables, plus a couple larger tables with lounge seats and cushioned bench seating. Out back there’s an enclosed patio with a rail, perhaps for overflow or maybe just to offer a place to look at the lovely view of the Napa river. Outside there’s a covered patio for outdoor seating with several tables and also some rail space facing the river.

The bar is off to the right when you enter, with space for around 8 chairs and a couple small two-top tables. It’s a little tight if the crowd is heavy, though there’s a glass door that can be opened up to allow for more breathing room.

Wilfred’s has a second level, which is designed to look like a pirate’s quarters. There are a few places to sit in the lounge, which then leads out to the rooftop patio that overlooks the river. There are a few tables here, as well as ship’s wheel that could be popular for photos.

The decor is lighter and brighter downstairs and turns darker as you walk upstairs. Thunderstorms arrive every so often, and there’s a porthole screen with mermaids and a pirate skeleton. Outside two large tikis tell you that you’re in the right place. The decor is quite well done and includes plenty of nods to Komes family that owns the place.

Like any good tiki bar, there is merchandise for sale including mugs, Mai Tai glasses, and t-shirts.

When we visited, the music was a mix of Hawaiian-leaning tropical instrumentals and songs with mellow vocals. This set the perfect escapist mood, and I hope this musical trend continues.

The staff worked together quite well during our visit, coming back to refill water and take second round drink orders right on time. There was a mixup with one of our food orders but the staff totally rectified the situation right away without any complaint.

Wilfred’s Lounge is great and officially opens today. Make plans to visit downtown Napa soon.

Wilfred’s Lounge: Food and Drink

Wilfred’s Lounge is officially opening in Napa today, so this is an overview of the food and drink from our visit during the soft-open last week.

As a restaurant that is open for both lunch and dinner, Wilfred’s has a variety of appetizers and main courses, though not so much for vegans. We really enjoyed the Salmon Candy Rangoons, a very nice riff on the Crab Rangoon originally developed at Trader Vic’s. Such a nice chance of pace and just the right balance between the fish and the cheese. We also enjoyed the Coconut Shrimp. The Spam Sliders were a bit of a disappointment since the sauce was not particularly flavorful and so the sliders basically ended up as bread and Spam.

Salmon Candy Rangoon

For the main courses, these were well-received and fairly large. At our table, we tried the Pineapple Fried Rice, Sticky Ribs, and Chicken Katsu, each of which was quite good.

And the cocktails? With Doc Park (ex-Pagan Idol/Zombie Village) at the helm, you know this is a strength. The 1944 Mai Tai is very solid, featuring rums from Jamaica and Martinique. This Mai Tai leans lighter than I prefer, but is a good fit for Napa’s crowd of tiki newbies. I really liked Batten Down the Hatches, with an exotic rum blend, pineapple, fassionola, lime, absinthe, and Doc’s spic. Very boozy (“limit 2 per customer”) and a ton of flavor. 

Uma Ube and Mai Tai

Mrs. Mai Tai totally dug the Uma Ube with rum, cream of coconut, pineapple, and ube (and a name that’s a nod to a similar drink at Kon-Tiki). It’s a sweet and lovely coconut drink that comes in a really nice coconut mug and will be a big hit. Likewise, Maximum Aloha was the best surprise of the cocktails we sampled. Featuring strawberry-infused rum, lemon, cinnamon, prickly pear, overproof Jamaican rum and topped with a coconut banana whip. You’d think it would be sickly sweet, but it was much more tart than you’d expect, which means that paired with the whipped topping that you can easily adjust the sweetness. And this drink is super flavorful. 

So, the summary is to go for the drinks and stay for the food. 

Wilfred’s Lounge is great. Make plans to visit downtown Napa soon.

Happy 4th Anniversary Kon-Tiki

It was no sure bet four years ago when Matt Reagan and Christ Aivaliotis opened The Kon-Tiki. Since then, they’ve carved out an important role in the download Oakland restaurant community, and the venue also serves as a hub for many in the East Bay and Oakland tiki community. The “Oakhana” have weekly meetups usually on Wednesdays. Come over and join the fun.

Over the years, the Kon-Tiki has hosted many events with rum producers and developed their rum club, the Kon-Tiki Expedition. When members complete the expedition they bang the gong and it is always a party. Kon-Tiki has hosted a few music events and who can forget the frequent appearances of Cosmic Lady Six for Tarot Tuesdays. And Kon-Tiki has hosted and participated in a number of events in the Oakland community.

These days, Kon-Tiki is the flagship location for everything tiki including a vast selection of rums, a large cocktail menu, and a modest but varied set of food offerings. Including their world famous Cheeseburger, of course. And there is now an “outpost” location a half mile away, the Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto. And, who knows, maybe more outposts to come.

So many memorable visits over the past four years, ten photos doesn’t really do justice. Thank you to so many great staff members who’ve provided excellent hospitality: @christaivaliotis@tolkien_black_dude @tomatigre @doctorbyday @not_carlos@terrysixofficial @manuelenriquebonilla @jeanie.with.a.bottle@le_toine_official @stirmaxalot @splifford_robinson and more.

Exotica Moderne 13

The latest issue of Exotica Moderne is here, including my article about local favorites The Kon-Tiki and The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto. Such a pleasure to interview Matt Reagan, Christ Aivaliotis, and Jeanie Grant about the two bars, the history, and plans for the future. With quotes from “friends of Kon-Tiki” including Woody Miller, Doc Parks, and Michael Thanos. Check it out!

And a big shout out to The Kon-Tiki who will be celebrating their 4th Anniversary on Thursday.

Additionally, I have two recipes in the issue. Look for the Turkey Grog and the Blue Caribbean.

Contributing to Exotica Moderne continues to be a personal highlight for me.

How to Make a Mai Tai with the Stars of Magnum P.I. and NCIS: Hawai’i

Stephen Hill and Jason Antoon appeared on Entertainment Tonight to promote their CBS shows set in Hawai’i and to make some Mai Tais at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. As these segments go, this one ain’t bad. They credit “Mr. Bergeron” with the origin of the Mai Tai and the ingredients in this version are actually a little better than recipe the Royal Hawaiian has on their website.

We always talk about the need to measure ingredients for cocktails, but I’m more than willing to give a pass to the “free pour” for the Jamaican rum float here. If people go a little heavy that would only improve the cocktail. They didn’t name check local favorite KoHana rum but as a light rum that one is quite flavorful, so a great option for an Island Mai Tai. The Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian is a great place to relax in Waikiki.

I have been enjoying Magnum P.I. since its debut in 2018, and they even incorporated Hawaii’s oldest tiki bar La Mariana into the program a couple years ago (they filmed at La Mariana to introduce the venue, but since then all scenes are filmed on a set). NCIS: Hawai’i debuted earlier this year.

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (ET version)
1 oz Orange Juice
2 oz Pineapple Juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Light Rum (KoHana)
Shake with ice and “free pour” float of Jamaican rum (Appleton Reserve)

Watch the Video