||NYT Diner's Journal 1/20/10: The Way We Ate - Too Old to Tiki?
Joined: Jul 07, 2005
From: The Polynesian Port of NOLA
|Posted: 2010-01-21 6:59 pm  Permalink|
Saw this today on the New York Times website:
The Way We Ate - Too Old to Tiki?
In 1994, Ruth Reichl announced that New York had outgrown tiki bars. Her review of Gauguin, a French-Polynesian fusion palace that briefly occupied the basement of the Plaza Hotel, ended on the image of two exiting customers: a delighted child and her somber father. He was somber, perhaps, because he had had to foot the bill in a restaurant that paid rent to Donald Trump. More important, he was too old to believe in “silly drinks and fake palms.”
Yet, for most of its history, tiki culture has been a singularly grown-up pursuit. After all, those “silly drinks”—providing you can find the straw through the thicket of fruit salad and plastic effigies—offer what Craig Claiborne called “unrivalled potency.” And the pineapple-happy fare that typically accompanies it was once capable of earning three stars from The New York Times.
That three-star tiki bar was named the Gauguin Room. From 1964 to 1969, in the ninth-floor penthouse of the now-defunct Gallery of Modern Art (the building at 2 Columbus Circle that now houses the Museum of Art and Design), it served liberally interpreted Polynesian to a Park Avenue crowd. The menu was an anthropological marvel of arbitrary Tahitian references and nonsense pidgin—“Papeete” referred to Cornish game hen, and a chow mein dish was sold as “Pork Ding Dong”—but apparently it all tasted good, and the cocktails were enormous. Nobody really thought it was authentic, least of all Craig Claiborne, who described the food as a pan-Asian fantasy. He gave it a glowing review anyway.
The Gauguin that Ruth Reichl reviewed thirty years later was, in many ways, the same restaurant—but times had changed. In 1964, Hawaii had recently achieved statehood, “Gilligan’s Island” was in its first season, and, in the name of Polynesian cookery, canned pineapple was infiltrating everything from cheese sandwiches to meatballs. In 1994, a year notable for Ms. Reichl’s multi-starred reviews of a Chinatown noodle house and no-frills sushi bar, New Yorkers no longer wanted to be condescended to with pastiche. The kitchen’s fusion acrobatics— foie gras rumaki, Yang Chow couscous, and fruit sushi with marzipan “wasabi,”—fell flat, and the island exotica that had spelled tropical adventure to a generation of diners not yet accustomed to air travel now recalled a school gym decked out for luau prom.
This year, two forthcoming neo-Polynesian ventures—Hurricane Club, which will open in the Park Avenue location once occupied by Porçao, and Painkiller, from the team behind Dutch Kills in Long Island City—are banking on the return of our lost innocence, or at least a willingness to suspend disbelief. The rum will certainly go a long way, and economic uncertainty may do the rest. Tough times have a way of calling for comfort food and uncomplicated fun.
Should you doubt the consoling power of the tiki bar, consider the case of kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst. When she was reunited with her family after her ordeal at the hands of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the first thing she asked for was a mai tai.
Grand Member (first year)
Joined: Nov 22, 2009
From: Alameda, CA
|Posted: 2010-01-21 7:07 pm  Permalink|
Never too old to tiki!
Joined: Sep 30, 2005
From: New York, NY
|Posted: 2010-01-25 9:40 pm  Permalink|
Wasn't this the space formerly occupied by Trader Vic's? We had many a scorpion there in my college years!