Cadillac Daiquiri

So many times we end up at a bar or restaurant that has a pretty good selection of cocktails but nothing really using rum. Such was the case on our San Diego trip where we ate at the hotel’s restaurant a couple times. The food was nominally Mexican, so of course they had a pretty nice selection of tequila and a variety of Margaritas on the menu.

The problem, of course, is that I don’t always love tequila. And I’ve learned that even if they have lime juice, simple syrup, and rum that asking for a Daiquiri will usually lead to disappointment. So, I asked for a rum-riff on one of the cocktails on their menu.

I ordered a Cadillac Margarita with the tequila replaced with their best rum, Myers’s Dark Jamaican Rum. This “Cadillac Daiquiri” was actually pretty good. The added complexity with Grand Mariner being used did make this into a pretty reasonable tropical cocktail.

Keep this in your back pocket when needed.

A Mixed Bag at San Diego’s Grass Skirt

Finally made visiting The Grass Skirt a priority. We thought that since it is all-ages at dinner time that it would work for our family trip, plus we were interested in experiencing Sippin’ Santa pop-up one more time this season.

Definitely a mixed bag.

Sippin’ Santa Holiday Pop-Up Decor

The decor here is pretty nice, but the music was nothing but reggae covers of pop songs. Which got old very fast and kind of ruined the Christmas vibe too. They also had sound system issues with their special effects. We do really dig their speakeasy entrance and there were some nice Christmas decorations up, though this is not as elaborately themed as some holiday pop-ups we’ve patronized.

Entrance to “Other World Travel”

We enjoyed the Shrimp and Pork Wontons, but overall didn’t think the food was that great here, with small portions and some odd choices (why does the tofu come with ground beef?). Our service was pretty good, and our server had a nice Christmas sweater on.

We ordered cocktails off the Grass Skirt menu rather than Sipping’ Santa, which in retrospect was overall a mistake. We didn’t care at all for the Clarified Painkiller (doesn’t taste like a Painkiller at all) or the Banana Berry Old Fashioned (barely any banana or berry flavors). The Tropical Soda needed more tropical flavoring. Boozing’ Susan’s World Famous Chi Chi did not live up to the hype in the name (like nearly all cocktails claiming to be “world famous” truth be told) and felt a little flat to me. Mrs. Mai Tai didn’t really like it at all and this type of cocktail is right up her alley.

Clarified Painkiller and Chi-Chi

Thankfully, I’m pleased to report that Tropical Tony’s Mai Tai was really good. A very nice rum blend and a nutty orgeat put this on my honorable mention list for best Mai Tai of the year. I would definitely return for this, one of the better Mai Tais in the city.

Nutty Mai Tai at the Grass Skirt

Bali Hai Lunch

We had a nice family lunch at Bali Hai Restaurant. A very relaxed vibe with some great views of San Diego Bay, so this is always a favorite destination. It is a good option when you have underage people in your party, too.

I enjoyed the Goof Punch, with a blend of rums, orgeat, and juices. The thing I like about this is that it has a good rum to juice ratio, so this tastes like a balanced cocktail and not just a punch of random juices with alcohol.

I did not have the Mai Tai but they do have a stock ticker showing how many of the infamous cocktails they’ve sold. 2,910,446 as of Wednesday, with 75,010 this year (around 80,000 in 2021). Which means that they should hit 3 million in early 2024, something I’m sure that will be a big deal for the restaurant and for the greater San Diego community.

They’ve replaced the tables and chairs in the restaurant since our last visit in July. A little tighter for four but with wings to expand.

Still so many tikis and artifacts to look at here, including the Goof on the Roof and Mr. Bali Hai out front.

The Luau San Diego

Had little bit of time on Monday night so I hopped over to check out The Luau, a newish tiki/surf bar in San Diego’s College East neighborhood. I figured it might be kind of slow but it was anything but. A nice mixed crowd of young people and some older ones hanging out on the Monday after Christmas.

Inside, Luau has a lot of painted walls with paintings and carvings, with some cozy seating up near the entrance. The bar is fronted with thatch, and there’s a very well appointed tropical patio out back. Music was a mix of styles, mostly 60s including Beach Boys, Monkees, solo George Harrison, reggae, and The Police. There are several framed prints making reference to the original 1950s Luau in Beverly Hills.

Every customer gets a welcome shooter made with Rum, Curaçao, Orgeat, Pineapple, Lime, and Soda as well as a little bowl of pretzels and goldfish crackers. The menu leans on touristy favorites such as the Blue Hawaii and frozen cocktails and the cocktails are free-poured and built in the glass. There’s a basic Mai Tai, a “skinny” Mai Tai, and the Mana Mai Tai made with “premium rums” and small batch orgeat. But the scant amount of rum bottles on the shelf and Hana Bay rum in the well indicated to me that “premium rum” might have a different meaning here compared to one of San Diego’s myriad craft cocktail bars.

Nonetheless, I did try the Mana Mai Tai and found it to be just fine. Certainly far better than San Diego’s most famous Mai Tai!

The bartender (John, I think) was working alone and given how crowded it was did a good job holding down the fort as bartender, server, barback, and cashier. Definitely a friendly demeanor and told me about the live music they have on the weekends and how they also do karaoke here.

I think if you look at the Luau with a “glass half full” approach you’ll be on the right side. This isn’t a craft bar, but if you come in with the right attitude you should have a lot of fun. There was a party of seven that came into the bar and when their Luau shooters arrived they toasted to Whale’s Vagina (a reference from San Diego’s most famous celebrity news anchor, Ron Burgundy).

It would be great if Luau ownership could continue to invest in the interior decor and maybe after a few years it would really have that true tiki bar feel. As is, it ain’t bad and seems like a great neighborhood bar.

Petco Park Mai Tai

Petco Park is a dream for fans of local favorites Cutwater Spirits and the myriad craft beer breweries. Cutwater is everywhere, with a common menu of cocktails throughout the stadium and their ubiquitous canned cocktails. Since neither is my favorite, I was pleased to see an unexpected option with a Mai Tai at one of the  cocktails bars that had a unique menu. Even better was the presence of Orgeat and Orange Curacao on the back bar.

If you’re so inclined, you can get this served in a tall plastic bat, but we went old school for a SD cup. And this Mai Tai wasn’t bad at all. There’s a little splash of pineapple juice, and so when I returned for our second game of the weekend I ordered it sans-pineapple and it was even a little better. Since this uses Cutwater’s light rum, don’t expect too much rum flavor, but for a ballpark you could do much worse.

Blind Burro

Back in 2017, we were so pleased to see a tiki bar called the Cat Eye Club just steps from Petco Park. It wasn’t an amazing tiki bar per se, but the clientele seemed free of the jocks and frat bros that crush all the other nearby establishments on game day. Food was from the adjacent restaurant The Blind Burro.

Sadly, all that remains of the Cat Eye Club is the “Tiki” neon sign that now says “Tacos”. It’s now simply part of the restaurant. 

Our pregame lunch at the Blind Burro was pretty good nonetheless including some tasty Mexican food and Margaritas from their expansive menu. Mrs Mai Tai liked the Guava Margarita. I loved my Chipotle Chicken Torta.

There is a Mai Tai on the menu that includes “white rum” and a float of Real McCoy 5 yr rum. I ordered this without the pineapple juice that it normally comes with and it was a competent Mai Tai and comes nicely served in a Real McCoy tiki mug.

Humphreys Half Moon Inn

After lunch at Bali Hai we wandered over to take a look at Humphreys Half Moon Inn, a Shelter Island classic.

So pleased to see that the majestic A-frame is now back greeting hotel and concert guests to the venue. The previous one went down in a vehicle accident.

The grounds here still look great and wandering around the gardens and pools is truly relaxing. We saw parrots, koi, turtles, ducklings, and a few tikis. We also saw them setting up for the America concert and even got a new nods for the SF Giants gear we were wearing from the roadies.

We also saw that the Humphreys Restaurant is open again, featuring its own majestic A-Frame entrance. We enjoyed our stay at the Half Moon Inn last year and would come back if we aren’t in town mostly to be by the stadium like this time.

False Idol – San Diego’s Best Tiki Bar

We skipped False Idol last year since we weren’t doing much indoor bar crawling, but we were sure to make it this trip by making a reservation. Having visited Smuggler’s Cove and Hale Pele in the last ten days this completed the trio of Martin Cate’s bars on the west coast.

A rare moment when standing room cleared

You enter False Idol via the host stand inside Craft & Commerce. With reservations you’re seated at a table and get to avoid the crush of patrons in standing room or trying to get to the bar seating that is first come, first seated. The reservation for four at 8 pm on a Friday was for two and half hours and we used nearly every minute. Our server Jordan did a great job checking in with drink orders and such, and since we were seated by the exit door we also saw him play bouncer when people tried to sneak in.

The decor here is so cool, with a ceiling filled with floats and carvings on the fall walls from local legend Bosko. Thunder roars when flaming bowl drinks are served. This was our first time seeing the new entrance, replacing the old speakeasy style freezer entrance with one framed by scary shrunken heads and skulls.

The cocktail menu is vast, offering both a classic tropical cocktail as well as a modern riff.  I thought the Mai Tai was just fine, and the Mai Sho Roa Na riff was a great excursion for a version using Banana rather than Orange liqueur and then adding Madiera. Our group tried some of the other cocktails including the Polynesian Forty-Niner (using Gardenia mix), Coronado Luau Special, Mac Nut Chi Chi, and Ube Bae. Really great cocktails overall at False Idol.

Mai Tai

I attempted to not over-indulge by only having two drinks. But the group was really interested in ending the night with a flaming bowl drink, so we settled on the Alkala the Fierce, featuring Dons Spices #2, Orgeat, rum, and Chai-infused Bourbon. I really liked this cocktail, and Jordon flamed it up real good for us. Though, afterwards there was a clear cloud of cinnamon that settled on the table.

A really fantastic evening at False Idol.

Bali Hai – Spectacular Views in San Diego

On our free day between Giants/Padres games this weekend we visited Old Town in the morning for some shopping and cultural activities. Then we went to Shelter Island’s Bali Hai for a late lunch.

Seating is solely indoors now, and we were seated by one of the myriad water-facing windows. The windows are so clear that we weren’t sure there were actually windows present! Kudos to whoever cleans these.

We had evening plans at False Idol so we went modest for the drinks at lunch. Which means there was no way I was ordering Bali Hai’s infamous Mai Tai with 5 oz of rum! I decided on a pour of the El Dorado Port Mourant Rum special release. The current version of Mr Bali Hai cocktail was a hit by those at our table.

Food and service were right up there with the high standards we expect at Bali Hai and it was so relaxing to have lunch on a clear day with the views of San Diego Bay.

Bali Hai Dinner

Mrs. Mai Tai and I had a great time at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park but we put in more than a days worth of exercise walking up and down the hills. So we chose the easy option for dinner, which was to walk over to Bali Hai.

We again went with the outdoor option, and there was a young man playing soft rock hits on an acoustic guitar (he seemed quite popular with the group of older ladies celebrating a birthday with Mai Tais). We had a great meal, including a delightful peanut shrimp plate that Julie said was amazing. I went with a smattering of apps, including the grilled Caesar salad and beef skewers again.

After nearly killing myself the previous day, I avoided the infamous Bali Hai Mai Tai and instead went with their signature Mr. Bali Hai cocktail. This isn’t the classic recipe with coffee liqueur but is made with light rum, blackberry brandy, juices, and a Demerara 151 float. I quite enjoyed it, and wish more people had the pleasure of drinking the balanced cocktails like this one or the Goof Punch rather than the glass of rums they call their Mai Tai.

Julie chose the Lava Slide, with Kahlua, Bailey’s, vodka, and chocolate syrup. Desert in a glass! And quite decadent.

I finished the meal with a pour from Bali Hai’s modest but well considered rum tasting list. They were out of Appleton 21, so my backup was the El Dorado Single Barrel PM Marque. Only $18 and quite a steal since I loved it. I saw some reviews bemoan the low 40% ABV and I appreciate where those heads are at. But the rich pot-still flavor really came through in this bold rum (it actually tastes similar to Mount Gay’s Pot Still release). I’m so glad I tried it.

We had a great time at two meals at Bali Hai. Such a wonderful place to be and while indoors would be better we still enjoyed our outdoor dining there.