The Grand Spectacle of Dinner at the Tonga Room

The Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco remains a seminal destination for fans of Polynesian restaurants, featuring a cohesive theme and the centerpiece of a pool in the middle of the large room. Rain showers with lighting and sound effects come every 20-30 minutes and is still a source of wonder for young and old. The decor is a blend of midcentury modern with traditional Polynesian art, sandwiched between a dock on one side and ship’s rigging on the other. The lava rock and red paint in the Hurricane Bar set it off well from the rest of the restaurant.

The space at the Tonga Room is sill so impressive to us and once again we were fortunate being seated poolside. In the pool is a boat that serves as the place where the house band Island Groove plays each night starting around 7 pm. The band opened with a nice mellow rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema” and the rest of the set was a mix of popular favorites from the 1970s-1980s. We thought “Margaritaville” and “All Night Long” played okay in this room, with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” less so. More mellow arrangements and less “wedding band” banter would be our preference. There’s a $15 per person cover when the band is playing.

We’re fans of the Asian fusion cuisine here. Pricey, yes, but we feel the quality is there. We started with the poke tostadas that were absolutely fabulous. The Asian salad is quite large and includes pears and a light honey sesame dressing. Mrs. Mai Tai and I both had the grilled salmon over fried rice that was just right for us once again. The portions were pretty good for the price. We’ve always had good luck with service. Our waiter Haobo couldn’t have been nicer, even offering to take a photo across the pool.

The Tonga Room is probably too pricey to be anyone’s regular watering hole, but remains a San Francisco institution. The Tonga Room is open at 5 pm Wednesday – Saturdays, first come (no reservations). If you’re in town doing the tiki thing, make sure you add it to your itinerary.

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