Tiki Drinks Are Back, Grilled Cheese Like No Other, Charitable Dining at the Cookery and Crabtree's

I predicted, oh, so many years ago in the 90s (when cocktail mania began), that tiki bars were due a reinvention. Why, you may wonder? (And, you must remember that this was when tiki bars bore the metaphoric and literal stink of the Jersey Shore cast at Cancun.) They’ve got historic landmarks like Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, rich social history, cool post-war style, and distinctive ingredients. What makes tiki drinks any less ripe than, say, martinis?

Before I could say Don Ho, several Manhattan bars had opened with tiki themes, including Otto’s Shrunken Head (2002), Painkiller (2010), and a whole bunch more that have since closed (glad I didn’t invest). Spring 2010 saw Westchester’s first dedicated tiki bar, Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar open at Rye, Playland, while last month, China White debuted in Purchase with a tiki drink menu. This week at EDP, we’ll be touring Westchester’s tiki drinks.

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Lum Yen: Oh, yes, folks—Lum Yen. It sounds odd, but Chinese restaurants were the carriers of the tiki torch when the international Polynesian trend fell out of favor with new restaurateurs. Lum Yen, which opened in 1972, slung the vaguely Cantonese, Sterno-lit pu pu platters and mai tais made famous 40 years previously in the mid-30s at California’s iconic Don the Beachcomber’s. Speaking of Don, it’s interesting to note that, though the tiki trend was a post-war phenomenon, DTBC popularized the Zombie cocktail at the 1939 World’s Fair. Recently, we visited Lum Yen and ordered a zombie cocktail, as well as a mai tai and a scorpion bowl. Here’s how it went.

SCORPION Bowl at Lum Yen: One cannot tear one’s EYES from Hula Girl’s assets

Zombie at Lum Yen – dragon glass portends vicious hangover

Scorpion bowl: Decorated by the topless hula girl above whose nipples were so visually arresting that they seemed to follow us around the room wherever we went. The giant, red drink tasted suspiciously like Hawaiian Punch (plus quarts of cheap booze), and I was crushed to see that it bore neither tiny umbrellas nor green maraschino cherries. This was a one-sip drink that foretold a headache—I passed it to my consort, who’s so cheap and waspy that he actually drank it.

Zombie: Served in a glass etched with a dragon design. More potent than the scorpion bowl, and I could actually tease out the flavor of pineapple. But sugary! And strong! And red! I was afraid to take more than a taste, lest my Bumpit get slapped in a boardwalk brawl over “The Situation.” It could happen.

Mai Tai: I admit that, having been primed by this excellent New York Times piece on orgeat (the almond-flavored syrup that bases the classic mai tai), I was amped for the Lum Yen mai tai. In fact, it was the best of the Lum Yen trio – tangy, fruity, a bit sour. But it was let down by its distinctly artificial almond flavor. Boo. And no damn umbrella!

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Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar: Yeah, baby—we’re money: Westchester’s first tiki bar, complete with smoke-belching Polynesian sculptures and a grass hut overlooking Rye Beach. At night, the place is magical, except for one thing: The Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar actually doesn’t serve tiki drinks. This sticky, plastic cocktail menu offers no scorpion bowl, no zombie, no mai tai, no Singapore sling. I scanned the apparently GPS-lacking roundup of frozen margaritas, mojitos, daiquiris, and sangrias and realized: Crap, I can’t even write about this place. Plus, the drinks list describes a cocktail having a “floater”—which, any way you look at it, is bad, folks. Just bad.

Flaming Scorpion Bowl at China White—skip your eyebrow threading this week!

China White: Just as China White is classing up Chinese-American cuisine with organic ingredients, this new restaurant is taking on tiki with revisionist zeal. The bartenders at China White are pureeing berries, squeezing limes, using organic liquors and—get this—making their own orgeat from almond extract (not really official, but I’ll take it). Here’s the result.

Scorpion bowl: One caveat here. We asked our lovely bartender to downscale the usual goldfish-bowl-sized, clear glass scorpion bowl to a single serving. So, the presentation pictured here isn’t official—usually, you can swim in this spherical, group cocktail. But she mixes two rums, gin, vodka, Dole pineapple juice (she claims it’s the best), fresh guava and orange juice with a Champagne “float” (the absence of the “er” here is key.) Then she cored a strawberry, poured Bacardi 151 in it and—whoosh: cue the kettle drums and flaming torch dancers! And guess what? It was tasty! Strong, yes, and sweet, yes—but also bearing enough citrus to carry the sugar, and we loved the flaming berry lava. One ding: in this oh-so-tasteful restaurant, the glassware is quite elegant. We kinda missed hula-girl boobs. And no umbrella!
Zombie: Silver, gold, and dark rum; organic citrus; and berry juice. Sure, it’s red, but that comes from blueberry puree and maraschino cherry juice—which carries enough chemical tang to make this otherwise classy drink taste officially tiki.

Mai Tai: Here’s the winner, folks: pineapple, orange, and lime juices with light and dark rums and almond syrup. And that’s it. Cool, sweet, fragrant of almonds, and strong—though I am not a tiki drinker (and, in fact, barely survived this story), I would actually order this drink again.

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Dining for the Cause

These two events pair good meals with good intentions—book yours today.

Cooking up Hope at The Cookery – July 14, 5:30pm – 10pm – Partners Michael O’Neill and Chef David DiBari of The Cookery will donate “a portion of the proceeds of all dinners to Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation to benefit a two-year-old boy’s search for a bone marrow donor.” Call (914) 305-2336 to reserve, and email help4ezra@gmail.com with questions.

Sparkle for a Cause at Crabtree’s Kittle House – 5pm – 10pm, every Tuesday through summer – From the invitation: “Each week, a different local charity will be chosen to be celebrated for the evening. We will prepare a special list of sparkling wine drinks along with a menu of sparkling wine-friendly finger foods and sharing foods.

A portion of all proceeds raised with these special menus will be donated to a local ‘Charity of the Week.’ The first charity to be celebrated, on Tuesday June 28, will be Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Hudson Valley. The second charity, on July 5, will be the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester. The third charity, on July 12, will be the Mount Kisco Day Care Center.”


Grilled Cheese at The Cookery


I’m a sucker for the texture of certain types of grilled or fried cheese. Can’t say that I’ve ever willingly eaten a mozzarella stick while sober, but I’ll return again and again to certain Mid-East restaurants for seared halloumi, a blah cheese so transformed by cooking that it becomes juicy and springy, almost squeaking when you chew. Chef David DiBari at The Cookery knows how to appeal to our pleasure centers by offering imported Pugliese Scamorza cheese that he smokes in-house and then grills. Taut, juicy, smoky, and also well charred, the delectable result is paired with sweet green tomato jam and vinegary baby lettuce. Yum.


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