Friday, September 26, 2008

Tiki Torch Song

Trader Vic's is a ticket to paradise, minus the jet lag

(especially after a Mai Tai or two in the pre-flight lounge)

With a few moments to spare before my dinner dates arrived, I perched on a woven leather stool at the bar inside Trader Vic's and assessed my exotic surroundings. Tables ringed with lowslung seats in glossy rattan sported glowing candles and Aloha-print cushions. A glance above my head revealed a corrugated roof covered in newsprint, faded sepia with age, which added an air of seaside shanty to the look of the lounge. Bamboo accents and all manner of skowling tikis were scattered throughout, from tabletop tchotchkes to sturdy, room-dividing joists that stood sentry between the bar and dining room.

These tropical accents and warm, sunset-style lighting worked their time and travel magic, leaving me feeling as though I'd been wandering aimlessly around a mid-century Pacific resort (Is that Lana Turner in the canary-yellow turban?), and happened upon a group of three other restless travelers, all of us deciding on the spur of the moment to make an evening of it together.

Once we were all accounted for - three boys, one girl and four Mai Tais - we clinked a toast and quickly sipped our spicy, herbal libations while talking a mile a minute about everything and nothing at all. It's true what they say: the Trader can really Tai one on, and they're not as pricey as you may have presumed ($7). We nibbled on skewers of pineapple and cherry floating in our boat drinks and soon it came time for another. Some of us castaways switched over to Zombies, a more potent concoction that nonetheless sips like nursery juice. In all, four pages are required to run down the full menu of tropical tipples at Trader Vic's.

Our second round brought us even more cheer (as expected), and each story was taller, more fascinating, more riotous than the last. Even though I'd never set painted toe in this tiki temple before, the company and conversation had me feeling right at home. When it came time to migrate into the dining room, we trailed like ducklings after a well-suited server who ensconced us in a generous palm-green banquette.

Pondering the menu with one eye, we simultaneously ogled yet more layers of island imagery in this second half of the restaurant. Rope and paper lanterns hanging high above might be the same style spotted at the Robinsons' tree-warming party, but crisp white tablecloths definitely spoke to the fine-tuned treatments of classic Continental and Asian dishes offered on the menu. Tidbits and Pupus tempted (Spare Ribs and Skewers and Crispy Prawns - oh, my!), but we dove right into the big kids' pool and were soon presented with plates of high-tone Chow Mein, succulent Steamed Sea Bass and one honkin' bone-in Hawaiian Chop that would have had Fred Flintstone blinking back a tear. Every entree was executed with care - my fish melted to moist firm flakes with the flick of a fork - but I'd be remiss not to mention that this is the arena in which prices float upward from "townie" to "tourist".

Our conversation continued to flow throughout the meal (full mouths be damned), and in the end, not a morsel remained. Not even one sip of candy-colored concoction was left to languish in the bottom of a frosted tumbler. We new friends squeezed every last drop out of our one-night vacay, and while padding back toward the door across printed pomegranate carpet (Simply red? Not on this island!), we hugged and shook and promised to do it again soon. And why shouldn't we? This island oasis is right up the road - no passport required.

Trader Vic's
5330 East Mockingbird Lane, Dallas


Food Czar said...

C&S, Trader Vic's has one of the best bars in town, as you suggested. And the best Mai Tais. Glad you enjoyed it!!

Classy&Sassy said...

I totally did. And with the length of that drink menu, you could go to TV's for happy hour every Friday for a year, and probably not have the same drink twice!

Megan said...

I love the bar, LOVE the drinks and the fun cups...but was completely umempressed with the food. I have been 4x now and every time it's just blah, nothing to write home about. I would go for a cocktail anytime, but probably walk over to Central 214 for the food.

Anonymous said...

As someone who actually went to Trader Vic's at the Palmer House in Chicago MANY YEARS AGO, I was so happy that they re-opened the one here! Needless to say, the C-man and I, along with our BFF's, were there shortly after it opened. Thanks, C&S, for sharing this with your readers - it's worth the trip!