Monday, December 03, 2018

Jayme vs. the Mai Kai

Indulge me a moment, and revisit our road trip vacation to sunny Florida some months back. For those of you keeping score at home, you'll recall that our encounter with the Wreck Bar's mermaid show didn't turn out so hot. In a word, it pretty much soured our vacation, casting a pall over the entire family's mood. We had one last evening in Fort Lauderdale before starting the trek home, and I desperately hoped the legendary Mai-Kai could live up to its reputation and right the ship, to mangle a metaphor. I'd already made reservations, but the first thing I did that morning was drive over to the Mai-Kai--hours before it officially opened for dining--and signed up for the Mai-Kai Club Card. It's really a great deal, offering two complimentary show tickets plus a 25 percent discount on the dinner check, plus other incentives. I mean, one visit paid for the membership fee. The office workers were surprised to learn this would be my first visit, as the club is a perk mostly utilized by regulars. So, thanks tiki network!

We arrived for the 6 p.m. dinner and show. The kids have always thought dad's tiki fixation a little weird, so I was nervous. If the Mai-Kai underwhelmed them, I knew I'd take it personally. If the Mai-Kai underwhelmed me I don't know what I'd do. After the Wreck Bar, we just needed an evening of unequivocal fun. We were greeted at the entrance by an array of tikis and porthole doors at the entrance.

Inside, well, the inside looked like a tiki bar/Polynesian restaurant ought to look. Much has been made of the Mai-Kai's old school charm and service. That's well-deserved. They escorted us to our table and the family dove into the magnificent, overwhelming selection on the menu.

The Wife, breaking with tradition, ordered the Mara-Amu rather than a mai tai to start things off. The souvenir mug was the clincher. After all, if the Mai-Kai couldn't make a mai tai correctly, what hope did we have? Fortunately, the Mara-Amu was quite nice.

Her ordering the Mara-Amu simplified my menu choices. I ordered the Barrel 'o Rum for the souvenir mug. I've made variations of this recipe at home, and am a sucker for passionfruit. It was a strong choice to kick off the evening.

The kids got to enjoy elaborate tropical drinks of their own, albeit the non-alcoholic variety. The Boy ordered the Chocolate Typhoon. He reported it was satisfactory.

Fairy Girl ordered an Island Queen Colada.

Monkey Girl, when not begging for tastes of mom and dad's drinks, enjoyed a Maui Sunrise.

Next up, The Wife ordered a Pina Passion in a pineapple. The kids were impressed. I had some, but mostly The Wife and Monkey Girl split it.

This is part of one of our meals we ordered. I have no idea what it was. I had the twin pork chops, and they were most excellent. Even my picky son raved about his food. The flavors are uniformly spectacular.

The Wife gave in to the inevitable, and ordered a mai tai. It was good.

I wanted a Shrunken Skull, but to my bitter disappointment, learned that they were out of souvenir mugs! The horror! I've had Shrunken Skulls before, and it's in regular rotation in the Lagoon of Mystery, so I decided to expand my palate instead of revisiting that classic. After a bit of delay so I could reexamine the menu, I settled on the Bora Bora as a cocktail I'd never had and couldn't get anywhere else. After the fact, I learned that there's an anise component to the drink, but at the time the Demerara rum and tart citrus in the cocktail ruled the flavor profile and I quite liked it. Pretty much every cocktail was a winner. My only regret was that I could only sample so few on our visit.

We took turns getting up and wandering around the restaurant, soaking in all the details and atmosphere. The place is enormous, with eight dining rooms capable of seating close to 500 guests at a time (and that's not counting the Molokai Bar, which can hold an additional 150). Even then, the place is sold out on most nights and reservations are required. It is sprawling and amazing and easy to get lost in.

And then there is the garden. A winding path takes visitors through a tropical forest of palms, bird-of-paradise, ferns, bamboo and other lush greenery. Waterfalls and ponds abound. Carved wooden tikis are everywhere, as well as stonework idols. It is immersive. Some of the tikis are old and weathered, others are new and bright. It is quite pleasant to wander the paths and take everything in.

Following the garden path brings you back to the Mai-Kai, albeit by a different entrance. There are interesting and cool dining rooms and halls from this side that I missed on the first tour. There's a black velvet painting of one of the owners, as she looked decades prior, on one of the walls (at least, this is what the staff told us). The details in all the rooms are extraordinary.

Then the Polynesian show began. Words can't do it justice. The performers enacted renditions of dances from the various Polynesian cultures. I can't vouch for the authenticity of most of them, but I saw a Maori dance troupe perform last year, and I have to say, the Mai-Kai dancers nailed the intense facial expressions and hand movements that are unique to that culture. The fire dance was dazzling. Pretty much the entire show was dazzling. The Mai-Kai was spectacular, but the show was absolutely over-the-top.

On the way out, we ducked into the Molokai Bar for a quick look. We'd hoped to come back later in the evening without the kids to sample some of the other offerings on the menu, but that was not to be. I bought one of the cocktail menus from the gift shop to go with our souvenir mugs, and the, sadly, our visit to the Mai-Kai came to an end.

Did the Mai-Kai live up to expectations? Boy, howdy. And then some. The kids still talk about it. They were suitably impressed. When I'm working on the Lagoon of Mystery, they'll comment, "You should do X like they have at the Mai-Kai," and, "When can we go back?" I don't know if the kids will ever be into tiki like their old man, but at least now they understand the appeal. And that's good enough for me.

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