Lunch To Go from Trader Vic’s Emeryville

We were supposed to go away for the weekend but puppy problems meant that we had to postpone. But light traffic on 880 meant that take-out lunch from Trader Vic’s Emeryville worked just fine on Saturday.

The Crab Rangoon and Cheese Bings traveled pretty well, and are all-time favorites. Mrs. Mai Tai tried the new East Bay Lemon Butter Chicken, lightly breaded with a lemon butter sauce, capers, parsley, broccolini tips, and pake noodles. She thought it was okay, but needed more sauce.

Meanwhile, I tried the Aloha Bowl with Salmon. These bowls are similar to the same named bowls at the Vic’s at the San Jose Airport and include sushi rice, dressed greens, carrots, daikon radish, edamame, and avocado. I really liked this bowl and while I’m not always a fan of avocado it worked well here in the same way it works in a California Roll.

The to-go cocktails were right on point. The Mai Tai for me and a Chi-Chi and Bahia for Mrs. Mai Tai. Just add ice and shake. Vic’s will provide ice as part of your to-go order.

Trader Vic’s Chi-Chi

TV Swizzle at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

This is one of the new menu offerings at Trader Vic’s Emeryville and I very much enjoyed this light and fruity cocktail.

Vic’s says this is “a classically prepared rum swizzle with pineapple, passionfruit, and subtle nutty notes.” I noticed they’re using Peychaud’s as the bitters “float” on top and it is prepared with John D. Taylor Falernum and the Trader Vic’s Royal Amber rum. Definitely a Trader Vic’s style cocktail and a good balance between the fruit and rum.

The improved heater that was supposed to be part of the maintenance in January isn’t done yet, so bring a jacket if it is cold outside (or, order a hot drink). But the service at the bar was great and the atmosphere was totally relaxing inside.

Maximum Aloha at Wilfred’s Lounge

It is long overdue recognition that this delicious cocktail should be considered a modern classic. Every time we try it is is on point and it is totally a draw for Mrs Mai Tai whenever we’re in hailing distance of Napa. We know we should have dinner at some of the other restaurants, but we can’t not go to Wilfred’s Lounge for the cocktail.

Maximum Aloha was an opening day cocktail at Wilfred’s and contains Strawberry Infused Philippine Rum, Lemon Juice, Cinnamon, Prickly Pear, Hibiscus, Overproof Jamaican Rum, Coconut Banana Whip. It leans tart, not sickly sweet like you might expect from the color. But that tartness can be adjusted by mixing in the delicious whipped cream.

We decided to Napa last weekend sort of last minute to check out the Napa Lighted Art Festival (more photos under @kevincrossman), so we didn’t have a reservation. We put our name on the Wilfred’s wait list but we’re quickly able to find a couple seats at the bar where they treated us so well. We do enjoy the Hawaiian food here, including the delicious pineapple fried rice.

I was taking it easy so I tried the spirit-free Toucan Sham, a flavorful lime-aid like refresher with Passionfruit, Vanilla, Pandan, Coconut Cream, Lime, Soda. This was pretty. The fruity flavors that favored lime really worked for me. Delightful.

Dinner with a view at Wilfred’s Lounge

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Shootout

I’d been thinking of doing a comparison test anyway, but was inspired by this week’s episode of the Tiki with Ray show on YouTube featuring the topic of “My Favorite Mai Tai” and a discussion of Menehune Juice.

Menehune Juice is a Mai Tai variant developed by Trader Vic’s in the early 1970s and is essentially a replacement of the aged Jamaican-forward rum with a Light Puerto Rican Rum. Other variants from this time period include the Pinky Gonzales (sub Tequila) and Honi Honi (sub Bourbon). The Menehune craze of the 1960s allowed Vic to put the Menehune Juice on the menu and you even got to take one home with you.

For this test, I compared the 1944 Mai Tai, Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, and Menehune Juice as they are prepared by Trader Vic’s restaurants today. Notably, the latter two use Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate as a substitute for the Orgeat, Rock Candy, and Orange Curacao. That Concentrate is used in Trader Vic’s restaurants and is occasionally sold off the Trader Vic’s website (I bought mine as part of the Trader’s Treasures membership). For the 1944 I’m using the present day recipe that calls for ¾ oz of Orange Curacao (I used DeKuyper).

I was surprised how much I liked the Menehune Juice, which I found light and refreshing but still “rummy” in a good way. I do enjoy the Mai Tais made with the Concentrate. But, no surprise that my personal preference was for the more complex body and taste of the 1944. Mrs. Mai Tai said she preferred the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and then the Menehune Juice, so it seems true that there’s a cocktail for everyone at Trader Vic’s.

1944 Mai Tai (Trader Vic’s present day)
¾ oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Rock Candy Syrup
½ oz Orgeat
¾ oz Orange Curacao
2 oz Trader Vic’s Royal Amber Rum
Shake with crushed ice and pour into Mai Tai glass
Squeeze ¼ of a lime, then garnish with spent lime shell and mint sprig

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai
Typically labeled “Our signature Mai Tai has been modified to perfection” on menus.
½ oz Lemon Juice
¾ oz Mai Tai Concentrate
2 oz Trader Vic’s Royal Amber Rum
Shake with crushed ice and pour into Mai Tai glass
Squeeze ¼ of a lime, then garnish with spent lime shell, fruit stick, and mint sprig

Menehune Juice
Same as Trader Vic’s Mai Tai but sub 2 oz Trader Vic’s Light Rum in place of the Royal Amber.

I used Trader Vic’s products throughout, except subbed Latitude 29 orgeat and Liber Demerara for the Rock Candy in the 1944 recipe.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Recipes

The Original 1944 Mai Tai

The Original Formula by Trader Vic Bergeron, 1944
2 ounces of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Jamaican Rum over shaved ice
½ ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
½ ounce French Garnier Orgeat Syrup
¼ ounce Trader Vic’s Rock Candy Syrup
Add juice from one fresh Lime.

Simplified 1944 Mai Tai Recipe
2 oz / 60 ml Aged Rum
½ oz / 15 ml Orange Curacao liqueur
½ oz / 15 ml Orgeat syrup
¼ oz / 7½ ml Rock Candy/Rich Simple Syrup or Demerara Syrup
1 oz / 30 ml Lime juice

Mai Tai Variants from Trader Vic’s

By the early 1970s, Trader Vic’s had added several cocktails to the menu that basically were variants of the Mai Tai that replaced the 2 oz of Jamaica-forward Mai Tai Rum with another spirit or ratio.

  • Menehune Juice – sub Light Puerto Rican rum. Garnish with Menehune figure.
  • Suffering Bastard – sub 3 oz rum (Light, Gold, Dark)
  • Pinky Gonzales – sub Tequila
  • Honi Honi – sub Bourbon
  • Rusky Tai (since 2016 rebranded to Vodka Tai) – sub Vodka

Trader Vic’s Island-Style Variants

Today, you’ll see the Maui Tai (with Pineapple), Mango Tai, and a Guava Tai on the menu at many Trader Vic’s restaurants. A Passion Tai is also sometimes seen. These fruity and lighter variants do actually show some restraint compared to many Island-style Mai Tais that are swimming in juice.

½ oz Lime Juice
1 oz Pineapple Juice / Mango Puree / Guava Puree / Passionfruit Puree
¾ oz Mai Tai Concentrate
1 oz Trader Vic’s Gold Rum
1 oz Trader Vic’s Light Rum
Garnish with spent lime shell and mint sprig

Modern Mai Tai Recipes Served at Trader Vic’s Locations

These notably include a squeeze of fresh lime juice on the top of the cocktail, adding important flavor and fragrance to the cocktail. Sometimes this spent quarter lime is dropped onto the top of the cocktail.

1944 Mai Tai
¾ oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Rock Candy Syrup
½ oz Orgeat
¾ oz Orange Curacao
2 oz Trader Vic’s Royal Amber Rum
Shake with crushed ice and pour into Mai Tai glass
Squeeze ¼ of a lime, then garnish with spent lime shell and mint sprig

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai
When the 1944 Mai Tai was added to the menu at Trader Vic’s Emeryville, this version stayed on the menu and priced $1.50-$2.00 less. It is made with Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate and typically labeled “Our signature Mai Tai has been modified to perfection.”
½ oz Lemon Juice
¾ oz Mai Tai Concentrate
2 oz Trader Vic’s Royal Amber Rum
Shake with crushed ice and pour into Mai Tai glass
Squeeze ¼ of a lime, then garnish with spent lime shell, fruit stick, and mint sprig

San Francisco Mai Tai
Add a float of 151 rum, named after a customer in San Francisco who liked it this way. In year’s past, Lemon Hart 151 was used. Today, you often see a mix of Trader Vic’s 151 and Trader Vic’s Dark Rum being used.

San Francisco Mai Tai


Buz-Tai at Hula Hoops

The highlight of my lunch at Hula Hoops was the Buz-Tai, a Mai Tai variant developed by local raconteur Buz Deadwax. This boozy cocktail has developed a cult following due to the name, the potent nature of the drink, and Buz’s reputation as a cocktail connoisseur.

I’m not sure that Hula Hoops is making it exactly to the original specs, notably omitting the mint called for as a garnish, but also using the 151 float to served flaming. I can’t say that Hula Hoops is doing it wrong because any cocktail served flaming is a fan favorite.

I noticed that Hula Hoops prepares this with Real McCoy 5 and 3 from Barbados, which to me are upgrades from the original light and Spanish style rums called for. As described by Buz in his original recipe, the 151 rum float will eventually topple and “recharge” the cocktail. I do enjoy the new flavor combination that comes when the burnt sugar flavors of this style of Demerara rum is incorporated into the cocktail when you’re about halfway done.

Hula Hoops uses Small Hand Foods Orgeat, which regular readers will know is not my favorite. But when used in combination with the other ingredients I didn’t get any of the flavors I usually associate with this orgeat, and in fact the cocktail’s balanced flavors of sour, sweet, and spice completely worked for me.

Shockingly, I liked this more than the Mai Tai at Smuggler’s Cove the week before and even better than the Ultimate Mai Tai at Tiki Tom’s. It was just that good, at least on this day at that time. We thank bartender Maria for making an awesome Buz Tai. Check it out next time you’re at Hula Hoops.

Buz-Tai by Buz Deadwax
¾ oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz High-quality Orgeat
¼ oz to ⅓ oz Allspice Dram (to taste)
1 oz Dry Curaçao
1 oz Blended Jamaican Rum (Appleton Signature)
1 oz Light rum
1 oz Aged Column Still Rum (“Spanish style”)
Shake with crushed ice and pour into double-rocks glass. Garnish with mint sprig.
Pour ½ oz 151 Demerara Rum into spent lime shell and place on top of the cocktail.

Lunch at Hula Hoops

It has been a minute since we patronized Hula Hoops in South San Francisco, and longer still since we ate indoors. I’m pleased to report that Hula Hoops is still going strong and doing things just as well as they always have. Lunch was chicken skewers and the Kalua Pork nachos, both very tasty.

Their small but formidable cocktail menu seems to be largely in place, including several coming via Doc Parks (of “Pagan Idol”). They have a standard 1944 Mai Tai, a Lilikoi Tai, and the Buz-Tai from local raconteur Buz Deadwax. More about the latter tomorrow.

The Lilikoi Tai is a little tart, but you can mix in the creamy passionfruit whipped topping to make it as sweet as you like. I enjoyed the topping and the cocktail.

I ordered the 1944 Mai Tai to go, and drinking it during dinner didn’t love it. Hula Hoops is using Small Hand Foods Orgeat which is not my favorite, and the orgeat taste is pronounced in the Mai Tai. So, your mileage will vary.

For Mrs. Mai Tai I got the Ube Martini to go. You can order this with vodka, rum, tequila, or gin. Not really a martini, especially when you order with rum like we did, but Ube is used throughout the cocktail and food menu at Hula Hoops so it is nice to see them leaning into this as a featured ingredient.

Service from longtime bartender Maria was friendly and efficient, and the place was quite full for lunch/brunch. Music being played is Jawaiian, the Hawaiian style of reggae, which I thought was just fine given the Hawaiian leanings of the venue. The shades were also largely drawn so it was both shadowy inside and for sure blocked out the outside world.

Zanj Cocktails at The Kon-Tiki

In addition to the Zanj rum tasting we talked about yesterday, there were also some special cocktails available at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland on Wednesday. As is the tradition, these were made with the rum from the brand doing the tasting.

I tried the Madame Mueze, named after the sugar cane varietal used in these rums. This one used the excellent unaged San Zanj rum for the base, along with Ayete Bitters, Benedictine, Lemon, and a delightful Lavender Honey Syrup. The honey really shined in this delicious tropical cocktail.

Cocktail specials like this are always a draw for regulars who are looking for something new, and the Kon-Tiki always does a great job with these.

Zanj Rum Tasting at The Kon-Tiki

Seemed like old times to have a rum brand showing off their spirits at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland lats night. Kon-Tiki alum Chris Lane was set up to show off the lineup of Haitian rums coming from High Road Spirits.

All are produced with Creole Column Stills, so they’re a little lighter than some Haitian spirits and all are issued at 43% ABV. The aged rums are produced from a low yield varietal named Madame Mueze and aged in new French Oak and ex-Cognac barrels. There is no artificial coloring, flavoring, or added sugar.

San Zanj: this is an unaged expression that’s a mix of rum and clairin from three Haitian producers and tasted great. This is easy to sip and has a wonderful mix of traditional sugar-cane based clairin flavors but tempered a bit by molasses-based rum. Very similar to the Equiano I wrote about a few days ago and worth seeking out.

AK Zanj: this cane juice rum is aged between 3-5 years and is the entry-level aged product. It is intended to be a cocktail rum.

AK Zanj 8 year and 10 year: Both are quite nice sippers, with the 10 year being a little better. Some nice barrel notes and not much of the Clairin flavor you see in the unaged expression. Overall these two are so similar that it seems that one is pretty redundant.

AK Zanj 15 year: the spicy notes from this incredible expression were impressive to me and fairly unique and really worth exploring. There are savory notes with a finish that is dry and nutty. I really loved this.

Rum tastings like this can be invaluable to trying something new and learning about new styles of rum. At The Kon-Tiki these tastings can also be applied to your Expedition rum list as well.

Three Dots and a Dash

This cocktail was recently featured on the Cocktail College podcast and so I thought I’d make one at home. An interesting aspect of this cocktail is that it called for an Aged Martinique Rhum, and I’ve heard specifically that this should be a sugar cane juice-based Agricole Rhum, not a Grand Arôme from Molasses. But the guest on Cocktail College seemed to not dial this in and even suggested an unaged Agricole might be better.

Having made the cocktail I can say that an aged Agricole for sure works better to compliment the spicy notes from the Falernum and Allspice Dram. The cocktail I made turned out really great and only served to remind me that I ought to order this more when out at bars.

Three Dots and a Dash by Don the Beachcomber
½ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orange Juice
½ oz Honey Mix
¼ oz Falernum
¼ oz Allspice Dram / Pimento Liqueur
½ oz Demerara Rum
1½ oz Aged Martinique Rhum
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Flash blend with 6 oz crushed ice. Garnish with three cherries (dots) and a pineapple front (dash).

Falernum: John D. Taylor (heavy pour)
Allspice Dram: Hamilton
Demerara Rum: Skipper Rum
Aged Martinique Rhum: Clement VSOP

We like these kind of cherries. Sue us.