Dealer’s Choice Mai Tai by Adrian Castañeda at The Kon-Tiki Room

Had a fab time over at Oakland’s Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto to send best wishes to local raconteur Adrian Castañeda who is moving to Barcelona in a few weeks. We’ve bumped into Adrian in all sort of places, including tiki bars where he’s worked such as Zombie Village, helping Doc Parks at Mai Tai Day 2021, and once even ran into him at the Midway Antique Emporium in Sacramento.

Last night he was doing a shift behind the bar at The Kon-Tiki Room and made a Zombie variant from the ZV days called the Sparkle and Froth. A very nice pineapple-forward cocktail that was super tasty.

I also asked Adrian for a “Dealer’s Choice Mai Tai” using the rums available at The Kon-Tiki Room. It was great to see a rum expert scan the shelves and pull down three bottles to work with, and to use them in just the right ratios. For the Mai Tai, Adrian used 1 oz of Worthy Park Kon-Tiki Single Barrel (aged 5 yrs), along with ½ oz each of Worthy Park 109 and Uruapan Charandra Anejo. This was a fantastic Mai Tai! So rich with flavors, where the aged Jamaican rum really paired well with the molasses and sugar cane juice-based Charandra from Mexico.

This unique blend was so great it is currently on my top 10 list of best Mai Tais for 2022. Mahalo Adrian and best wishes.

The Kon-Tiki Room now has a subtly placed TV for their regular Thursday Star Trek Nights, and last night was playing a vintage 1960s beach movie. Which then allowed them to play some traditional lounge and Hawaiian music, which was totally fantastic. This place is a lot better when there’s escapist tropical music.

Dinner and Cocktails at Tiki Tom’s

Had a really good experience at Tiki Tom’s the other night, where Mrs. Mai Tai and I went over for dinner and drinks. We both tried the butterfly-shaped Bao Buns, hers with Tofu and mine with Kalua Pork. Though this format was a little messy to eat it was only great on the palette. There’s a really good tangy sauce on these, though note that the peppers are a little spicy. I also tried the fried Tiki Spamsubi, very filling with tempura, rice, and spam. Mrs. Mai Tai had the Chicken Katsu as a fried tofu option and declared it great.

Mrs Mai Tai still loves the Ohana Punch that includes little chunks of green apples and walnuts. It is delicious but the servers always ask if you’ve had it before just to prepare you. Don’t skip past this as a pina colada clone, it’s really great.

We also both enjoyed the Carmen Miranda cocktail, featuring an over-the-top garnish and a side of Dole Whip soft serve. The creamy cocktail with mango and cachaca leans sweet – but not too far. And as noted yesterday, we also got to try the Ultimate Mai Tai, coming soon to the new cocktail menu.

We’ve heard from folks that they’ve had mixed experiences here, though we had no complaints on our visit. Everything came out great. Prices are still a tad higher than average, but we do find the quality of the interior decor, ambient music, and service to be in line with that pricing.

Coming Soon: The Ultimate Mai Tai at Tiki Tom’s

Since Tiki Tom’s let the cat out of the bag on their Instagram Story, we can confirm it is true. Our “Ultimate Mai Tai” recipe is going to be used as a premium Mai Tai on the forthcoming new cocktail menu at Tiki Tom’s in Walnut Creek.

We get a kick anytime someone makes a Mai Tai with our Ultimate Mai Tai Rum Blend, a boozy combination of four heavy rums mostly from Jamaica. So it is our honor and pleasure that Tiki Tom’s is interested in trying this for their new menu. And it is not without some significant challenges most notably the limited availability of Appleton 12 rum.

There are some other interesting things coming to the new cocktail menu so be sure to stay tuned to their social media for updates.

Ultimate Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat (Latitude 29)
¼ oz Demerara Syrup (BG Reynolds)
½ oz Orange Curacao (Ferrand Dry Curacao)
½ oz Appleton 12 Jamaica Rum
½ oz Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum
½ oz Plantation OFTD Rum
½ oz Plantation Xaymaca Jamaican Rum
Garnish with Mint Sprig and spent Lime shell

Kon-Tiki Enters Revised Top 10 Mai Tai List

Perhaps no destination demonstrates the search for the ultimate Mai Tai better than The Kon-Tiki in Oakland. Their Mai Tai has always been good, but self-described constant R&D means their 2022 Mai Tai has leapfrogged into the top 10, replacing sister bar The Kon-Tiki Room.

This sweet and savory cocktail uses Super Jugoso Orgeat, rum-based orange shrubb, and a blend of rums from Guyana, Martinique, and Jamaica. The house Mai Tai is excellent at Kon-Tiki, or try one with their special Kon-Tiki Single Barrel Rum from Worthy Park.

Kon-Tiki is also the place where where a customized Mai Tai was the best we’ve ever had.

Here are the top 10 Mai Tais that you can have right now.

  • Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
  • Dr. Funk
  • Hale Pele
  • Halekulani Hotel
  • The Kon-Tiki Oakland
  • Rumba
  • Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co.
  • Smuggler’s Cove
  • San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s Emeryville
  • Undertow

Mrs Mai Tai and I are going to New York City at the end of the month and expect to visit Sunken Harbor Club, home of Garret Richard’s famed Mai Tai. A possible new entry in this list, so stay tuned.

World’s Best Dive Bar Mai Tai

Friday night found me in El Cerrito at one of their noteworthy dive bars, The Little Hill Lounge. The lounge was recently reopened after being purchased by Matt and Christ of The Kon-Tiki and Palmetto fame.

So many old school touches in this place that looks like it was transported from 1985. Only the modern point of sale system and reliance on holding credit cards for customer tabs would give a time traveler any clue it was 2022. There weren’t even many people using their smartphones.

The atmosphere was raucous but friendly. The group of middle-aged ladies in the booth behind me were doing a whole lot of hooting and hollering. Music was all 1980s-era deeper cut hard rock (Billy Squier/Deep Purple not Bon Jovi/Guns n’ Roses) with some Beastie Boys and Black Sabbath thrown in to spice things up. In fact, when “Paranoid” came on I got to see not one but multiple dudes grooving and air drumming (I can neither confirm nor deny that I was one of said dudes). There’s a vintage CD jukebox inside but is currently out of order.

As the PBR sign outside indicates, this is obviously a beer place with a number of craft beers on tap and a variety of beers in bottles/cans. Yet, the cocktail menu demonstrated that Little Hill Lounge is not your average dive bar. Aside from the Prickly Pear Margarita and house-made Sangria, there at the top of the list is the Little Hill Mai Tai. This may have had something to do with my visit.

It is incredible to drink a 1944 Mai Tai in a bar with wood paneling and Olympia Beer signs all over the place. Yet, something tells me that the Mai Tai I would have ordered in in 1985 would have tasted different. Yes, friends, the cocktail is pretty good at Little Hill Lounge and possibly the world’s best dive bar Mai Tai.

Now, my honest feedback is that leans a little far in the Agricole direction given the clientele. Or maybe boost the orgeat a bit. For a second round I ordered a Wisconsin Old Fashioned that was very well prepared and tasted fantastic. Service was great here.

Best Tropical Cocktail and Food Combo at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland

Landed at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland for my favorite combo meal: The Kon-Tiki Mai Tai and a single patty Kon-Tiki Burger. Pound for pound the best cocktail and food combo you’ll find at any tiki bar. I call it the Ultimate Mai Tai Special.

The Mai Tai – funky with rums from Guyana, Martinique, and Jamaica. And the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had. Still going strong after five years.

There’s been some redecorating of the name plagues of the people who’ve completed the Kon-Tiki Expedition Rum List (see if you can spot mine). Thank you to the Kon-Tiki staff for keeping the flame alive.

Wasn’t overly crowded before six and still always a cool vibe inside. The upbeat 70s vintage tunes included some deep cut Parliament songs that were fantastic. Fine for Friday.

The Kon-Tiki Expedition Rum Explorers

 

Ultimate Kuleana Rum Mai Tai

We worked hard at Ultimate Mai Tai Headquarters to come up with a great Mai Tai using Kuleana’s rum expressions. With four Kuleana rums to work with it was difficult to hone in on the right formula, but after exhaustive testing this one really stuck the landing. The cocktail has complex and fruity flavors that will remind you of the islands, but still remaining true to the original Mai Tai formula.

I wanted to use at least two Kuleana rums, especially their Hawaiian Rum Agricole that I find delightful. But that rum has such as unique taste it can overpower other rums, even Kuleana’s premium aged expression Hōkūlei. So we dialed the Rum Agricole back and added Kuleana’s lightly aged rum, Nanea.

To give the cocktail a tropical twist, we replaced the ¼ oz of rock candy syrup with liliko’i/passionfruit syrup. Because sometimes you want the flavor but not the foam.

Ultimate Kuleana Rum Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Passionfruit Syrup
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curacao
½ oz Kuleana Hawaiian Agricole Rum
½ oz Kuleana Nanea Rum
1 oz Kuleana Hōkūlei Rum
Shake with crushed ice and garnish with pineapple and cherry

Products used: Small Hand Foods Passionfruit Syrup, Latitude 29 Orgeat, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao.

If you have these rums, give this recipe and try and drop a comment with your impressions.

Interestingly, these same rums are used in the Kuleana Mai Tai at Kuleana Rum Shack. Wonder what the proportions are, and what’s in Kuleana’s “secret mix” in that Mai Tai. Hmmmmm.

The bottles were provided by Kuleana but this is not a sponsored post.

Tiki With Ray Episode 142: Can The Mai Tai Evolve Again?

It’s always a pleasure talk with Tiki with Ray off or on camera. This conversation was on camera for Ray’s YouTube show, and he asked me the provocative question – can the Mai Tai evolve again?

The Mai Tai evolved around a decade after it arrived in Hawai’i, so it seems like a possibility that it could evolve again? Ray put out some theories and I reacted with some opinions. Be sure to check out the video on YouTube.

The episode was filmed at Tiki Tom’s. Be sure check out Ray’s interview episode with Tiki Tom’s owner Darrin DeRita from a couple weeks ago.

Dr. Funk Mai Tai Still Delivers

It seems impossible to believe that Jamaican’s leading rum brand is having supply chain issues, even with being owned by liquor superpower Campari Group. Yet that’s exactly the situation for Appleton Estate 12 year Rare Casks and also Appleton Estate 8 year Reserve. Bars cannot get these popular rums in volume. Perhaps Appleton is running short of their iconic bottles and getting bottles to Jamaica is tricky (can we start a bottle return program, stat?). In any case, let’s hope this gets resolved soon.

In the meantime, bars that use Appleton 12/8 in their cocktails need to find alternatives. Appleton’s lightly aged Signature blend seems to still be in ready supply, but may not be a perfect sub for the longer-aged expressions.

Such is the case for the Mai Tai at San Jose’s Dr. Funk where they replaced Appleton 12 with another longer aged Jamaican-led rum, Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. It is then blended 50/50 with Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum. And nothing against Denizen, a fabulous rum blend of mostly Jamaican and some Martinique rum, but Appleton was a better companion to the Smith & Cross.

Nonetheless, the new formula Mai Tai at Dr. Funk is still outstanding. The house orgeat really shines in this bright cocktail that highlights delicious Jamaican rum. And a reminder that it’s only $10 during happy hour – a total bargain.

It sometimes seems passé to include a Mai Tai on the menu at a tiki bar that serves craft cocktails. Of course they can make it, why take up space on the menu? But to me it is important to include the specs on the menu, not just to show newbies this isn’t a pineapple/orange juice Mai Tai, but also to make a statement with the rums being used. Denizen and Smith & Cross? You know this is a serious Mai Tai. And it’s one of the best anywhere.

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.