Makai Santa Cruz Waterfront Dining and Cocktails

Celebrating Mai Tai Monday with a real good one that we sampled on lunch on Saturday. Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery is a Hawaiian and tiki themed restaurant on the Santa Cruz pier. We’ve been there a few times and had a good experience, so seemed like a great time to visit again and reconnect with friends. Our meal and service were great.

The cocktail menu is refreshed and there are even more originals here now, plus a very well appointed rum tasting list. I went for the Mai Tai and found it quite good, using Appleton Signature Jamaican rum. Meanwhile Mrs. Mai Tai had the Kahanamoku featuring vanilla rum, lemon, lime, coconut cream, and spiced rum float. Leaning sweet, but still pretty good if you like it that way.

The rum list is extensive and priced competitively. We went a little upscale for some Appleton Hearts 1995, only $62 for a 1½ oz pour. Plenty enough to split between the two parties.

I know that purists hate tiki bars with windows, but I can never penalize a place that has ocean-front views (see also: Trader Vic’s Emeryville). And Makai’s view is really worth it. We saw flocks of pelicans and also hoards of sea lions nearby. It was a beautiful day on Saturday, perfect for a friendly meal and tasty food and drinks.

Tipsy Terrier Halloween Party

Thanks to Amy and Kirk for throwing another amazing backyard Halloween Party last night in San Jose. Their large home tiki bar, the Tipsy Terrier, is the centerpiece and fantastic but we most spent time in the yard and patio enjoying the myriad Halloween decorations.

They served a wide assortment of boozy beverages including fantastic versions of the 1944 Mai Tai, Three Dots and a Dash, and great blood red Zombie. Super flavorful and definitely not watered down for a general audience. There were also Aperol Spritz’s and Champagne Cocktails. So nice when the host give you the fixing and you can prepare it to suit. Beer on tap and Sangria from a fountain were available for those with less ambitious prep desires, or just because they prefer it.

Mrs. Mai Tai came up with the idea for our costume – Jack and Wendy from The Shining. All works and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Some truly outstanding costumes at the party, and nice to see some familiar faces but also to meet some new people too.

Galliano Mai Tai

Saw a reference to this vintage pamphlet cookbook produced by McKesson Liquor Co. in the early 1970s, so I had to get one for myself. Discover Gold includes a host of recipes featuring Galliano liqueur, with its unique but “undefinable taste.” The Harvey Wallbanger is here, of course, but so much more.

I gave the Mai Tai a spin, because I’m fancy like that. With a full ounce of Galliano, you’re not hiding the taste – especially when paired with a lightly flavorful White Rum. Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard Mai Tai recipe.

Galliano Mai Tai
1 oz Galliano
1 oz White Rum
½ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curaçao
Put all ingredients into an ice-filled rocks glass, stir, and garnish with mint.

If you love Galliano in a Harvey Wallbanger, like I do, even you probably won’t like this. Far too much of that unique Galliano flavor here, and it totally overwhelms the cocktail. I could barely taste the other flavors especially the scant ½ oz of lime juice. Maybe this would be better if paired with a bolder rum and inverting the lime and Galliano ratios. Maybe.

I don’t need to tell the Galliano haters that this is cocktail is a hard pass for you.

Killer Mai Tais, Literally

There’s a key plot point in the new season of American Horror Story: NYC on FX/Hulu. There is a serial killer at loose but he only seems to be killing men who order Mai Tais at bars.

No, I’m not joking. Thank you to Amanda Hastings for the heads up on this detail.

Look, haven’t we already suffered enough with bad Mai Tais over the years? Now we have to deal with looking over our shoulders and worrying about copycat killers!

This kind of show isn’t really my bag though, Mai Tai or no Mai Tai. If someone wants to send me spoilers via DM I wouldn’t mind knowing how this turns out. Maybe the killer has a grudge against Trader Vic or is simply a Martini fanatic.

This brings new meaning to the phrase “Mai Tai Till I Die.”

Mai Tais at Sparks Water Bar

Not entirely a coincidence that we chose this restaurant on the waterfront of Sparks Marina Park Lake, since this was located very close to our hotel. But I was all too happy to take Mrs. Mai Tais suggestion for Sparks Water Bar for dinner on Saturday.

The lake is obviously man-made, and there are some nice beach styled houses near the marina, including some with some impressive backyard tikis. The two-story restaurant was busy on Saturday, so it seems like the place to be. Food is a mix of this and that American fare, along with the extensive Gar Woods cocktail menu.

1944 Old Way Mai Tai

So, a “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai” (the one made with Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate) and a “1944 Old Way Mai Tai” were there for a little comparison testing. Unlike our visit to sister property America’s Bar in Truckee, the mint was in great shape for the garnish. The 1944 comes with the Menehune spear, and did taste a bit better – just a little more rich. Both were well-done and authentic.

Mrs. Mai Tai tried one of Gar Woods’ “Woody” cocktails, a blended Daiquiri style drink which she plussed with some Prickly Pear puree and a float of Myers’s and Captain Morgan rums. I thought it was pretty good for this style of drink and certainly the pear flavor did come through. She didn’t love the Pomegranate Martini though, but I thought it was a pretty good Cosmo riff.

Can’t say enough good things about the food here. My Teriyaki Salmon Salad was delightful, with the teriyaki glaze perfectly grilled to a crisp. There were lots of things in the salad besides lettuce, and I really enjoyed this. The Scallops that Mrs. Mai Tai had were pricey but she said were excellent.

Local Tikis

Thatch Roof Cocktail at Legends Bay Casino

The new Legends Bay Casino is right across from our hotel in Sparks, so we went over to try some cocktails. There’s a bar with food trucks and a great selection of beer, but we went into the elegant bar at Duke’s Steak House. Our service from the bartender here was outstanding.

There’s a good selection of cocktails here, and the team can make classics not on the menu (I ordered a Sidecar). Mrs. Mai Tai immediately spotted the coconut rum drink called Thatch Roof, and this was an excellent choice. The Thatch Roof cocktail has Kasama Small Batch Rum (from the Philippines), ginger, coconut cream, lime, and soda. The blend of coconut and ginger worked great, and the soda and lime gave it a lightness. It was fantastic.

Kasama is a rum brand that I wasn’t familiar with, so I got a little pour of the rum for the second round. I don’t think the “small batch rum” label is quite accurate since research indicates there are big bucks and industry vets behind this brand (see also: Tito’s “Handmade” Vodka). The column-still rum is heavily dosed with sugar and added flavors, so this isn’t really a rum to sip neat. But I can’t complain at all about the flavorful Thatch Roof cocktail.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai in Truckee

The Search for the Ultimate Mai Tai takes you to unexpected places.

Mrs Mai Tai were traveling to Reno to see Belinda Carlisle in Sparks so we stopped in Truckee for lunch. We enjoyed lunch at the eclectic Squeeze In cafe.

Just down the street there’s a restaurant called America’s Bar, which is owned by the Gar Woods restaurant group that has several restaurants in the Tahoe/Reno area. Which means that they serve an authentic and fully licensed Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. They also have a property in Sparks.

Man I love me a great Trader Vic’s 1944 Mai Tai. This one used crushed ice and had a superb flavor, just like you get at Vic’s. Freshly squeezed lime on top does really help too. You know it is authentic by the glass and Menehune. I’ll cut a bit of slack on the mint given the venue’s location.

The Kon-Tiki Mug by Woody Miller

Finally made it out to Oaktown to pickup one of these beautiful Kon-Tiki mugs by Woody Miller. These are available at The Kon-Tiki Room in a green glaze but I was more than happy to pick up this wood glaze at the original Kon-Tiki on Webster street.

I really like this design, including the Kon-Tiki logo on the back. I’m a fan of wood glazes and though my personal preference probably lies towards glossy glazes, I never mind when this matte style is used to mimic wood. Cheers to Woody for another excellent mug.

You can also purchase the mug in combo with Kon-Tiki’s very fine Worthy Park Special Barrel rum release. In fact, the Kon-Tiki has a plethora of merchandise options including glasses, shirts, and even bottles of rum to take home. Vintage LPs are barter only.

Golden Devil New Yarnmouth Single Cask 26 yr Jamaican Rum

Thanks to rum mensch Cory Schoolland for turning me on to this limited release of a rum that’s typically unusual to find on the market. You see, New Yarnmouth is one of the two distilleries owned by the J. Wray & Nephew (you might have heard of the other distillery, Appleton). It’s where they produce the famed Wray & Nephew Overproof, but aged rums from here are basically unheard of.

But K&L Wines was selling this Golden Devil release and after Cory gave me a sample to try I thought that I’d be remiss about not obtaining a bottle before it goes away forever.

This rum was distilled in November 1994 and aged for 26 years. There’s no specific documentation on the location of the aging, though deduction indicates the majority was probably in Europe. The rum has plenty of aging notes, but not so much that this age would indicate compared to rums aged completely in the tropics.

There’s no clear marque either, though this is what I’d characterize as a medium ester Jamaican rum. Plenty funky for the average spirits drinker, but for sure not anywhere as a high as you see from other local distilleries. There aren’t notes about the still type, but I’d guess column still just based on the relative lightness of the body.

There’s plenty of flavor here. The ABV is 66.3% so it is a truly a full strength cask strength release. There are amazing lingering flavors that your tongue continues to get notes from for what seem like minutes. Little sips provide a deeply satisfying tasting experience. If you love Jamaican rum this fits right in. The slightly lighter body would be comparable to Appleton, if they issued at cask strength (which they don’t). It’s astonishing.

K&L still has a few of these for sale at the SF store or via mail order. Price is less than you’d expect for a 26 year rum from a distillery that literally doesn’t issue long-aged rums. Below the Mendoza line, baseball fans.

More info: Jamaican Rum Distillery Cheat Sheet (Cocktail Wonk)