There's no Coco Lopez cream of coconut in the classic piña colada at Charles Phan's new Wo Hing General Store. Bar manager Brooke Arthur uses handmade coconut cream instead, giving the drink an unexpected lightness and sophistication—this is not your grandma's all-inclusive cruise ship piña colada. The cream is made in Charles Phan's commissary kitchen. "It has a milky texture and taste that adds a lot to the cocktail," says Arthur. Compared to the intravenous sugar hit that is Coco Lopez, it's a revelation. What else goes into a pina colada befitting Phan's food? You'll be able to taste it for yourself when the restaurant opens this Friday, but here's a preview.
Friday night. You and your friends order two beers from the taps, a glass of wine and the frou frou cocktail of the night—you know, the one the bartender has to whisper to before he pours it over the back of a spoon. The check comes and it's blank stares all around at the empty tip line. Should you add 20% to the total? Do you just combine the dollar bills in everyone's pockets and call it a night? What I learned this week: the standard for tipping at the bar is $1 per drink. But it's not that simple. Let's take this matter to some well-liked bartenders around town for some straight shooting on the matter.
I finally, at long last, made my way to Smuggler's Cove last Thursday night. I have been a fan of Polynesian-themed watering holes since I was a teenager, when my underage friends and I would head to Aku-Aku in Cambridge, Massachusetts, mugging in front of the giant Easter Island heads outside before trying to convince the waiters that yes, they could serve us Scorpion bowls. Let's face it—there are point in ones life when drinking tête-a-tête from two-foot-long straws is basically the pinnacle of existence.
Yesterday, there was some big news. And it was amazing.
The news was that Smuggler's Cove, Martin Cate's new Tiki bar is set to open to the public on December 8 in the old Jade Bar space.
Why was the news amazing? Because that date is pretty much right on the target that he set for himself when he announced the new project back in June. How often does that happen? If Cate's bar is run in nearly as orderly and well-planned a fashion as its conception and execution, it should be a very successful place.
While we're all anxiously awaiting the opening of Martin Cate's new Tiki shrine (an announcement about the imminent opening is due, Cate tells me, next week), we can perhaps get a preview of what's to come at an unlikely place. Next Monday, the 9th, Jardinère, bastion of fine dining in the Symphony District (SyDi?), is putting on its grass skirt and putting Cate behind the stick as guest bartender. Cate says he will be making “three typically obscure and esoteric vintage tropical drinks that will be magically delicious!”
As interesting as Cate's drinks, perhaps, will be the food to go with it. Tiki cuisine has never been exactly exalted in gastronomic circles, so it will be interesting to see what Jardinère's accomplished kitchen team can do with it in a prix-fixe format.
None of the jokes we could make (i.e. his three-hour tour turned to three years) can mask the sadness we're all likely to feel at the news that the great, great Martin Cate, one of the partners and certainly the soul and the genius behind Alameda's Forbidden Island, is leaving the tiki bar. If not a Tiki God (sorry), Cate is certainly considered one of the world's top authority's on this overlooked cocktail art form. While tropical and sometimes kitschy, Cate's drinks were always remarkably complex, balanced, and delcious. He told me that he and his partners in the bar, which opened in 2006, " just had different ideas about the the future of the business."