Last week marked our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Because I was busy with and out of town for the Asian Tofu photo shoot, Rory and I had a belated celebration. I was too pooped to go out to a fancy restaurant. Instead, we celebrated at home with a simple-and-somewhat sinful dinner of fried spring rolls (there were frozen oyster spring rolls in the freezer) and fried Baja fish tacos.
To go along with that deep-fried menu, I asked Rory to make Mai Tais. We’d gone to a couple of Tiki bars in Southern California recently and carted back a souvenir tiki head goblet (above) from the Disneyland Hotel’s new Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar (below). Our plan was to fill the goblet with one of our favorite summer cocktails, the Mai Tai, and sip it on the porch as if we were vacationing in some island paradise.
The classic cocktail of rum and tropical fruit juice was supposedly invented at Trader Vic’s, the Oakland, California, uber original Tiki bar that also spawned deep-fried crab Rangoon wontons. Don the Beachcomer in Hollywood may have created the drink earlier but no one knows for sure. Nevertheless, the Mai Tai is synonymous with Tiki culture and the tropical good life. In fact, maita’i is the Tahitian term to describe something that’s good.
There are many versions of the Mai Tai, but we gravitate toward the one from the Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach, California. Rory had gone there since he was a kid and introduced me to its kitschy, bamboo-laden bar over twenty years ago. We ate many wiki-wiki steaks and sipped many of their Mai Tais, watching their bartenders carefully, trying to figure out the Royal Hawaiian secret. Alas, they always had their base premixed and simply poured it into glasses, adding a last minute float of dark rum to create an attractive result. With all the liquor involved, their Mai Tai always packed a punch too.
Needless to say, we’ve attempted to make countless Mai Tais at home. One of the ingredients in the Trader Vic’s version is orgeat, an almond-flavored syrup. It’s not readily available and my friend, Jeff Bareilles, the sommelier and beverage director at Manresa restaurant, suggested substituting a bit of the almond syrup that’s commonly used for coffee drinks. Rory and I tried it and decided that orgeat gives Mai Tais a cloying quality that frankly, kind of turns in our stomachs. We even tried Amaretto and it overpowered. We don’t have a big sweet tooth, and in the end simplified matters by omitting the almond component altogether.
However, Rory had read that a little fragrant bourbon is sometimes added to the Mai Tai. We had a bottle of decent bourbon and gave it a go. This is the liquor that went into the goblet:
The Mai Tai was so wonderful – the most maita’i of our Mai Tais that we’ve ever made! It was good that Rory jotted down the recipe for me to share with you because we uh, drank too many of them. Enjoy with a date or a group for a fun time.
Makes 1 big cocktail
For the pineapple juice, we use Watt’s, which comes in a box that’s labeled as ‘pina’ nectar. I imagine that it’s sold at Latin markets but we get ours at a mainstream, local market.
3 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
1/4 ounce bourbon
3/4 ounce triple sec
1 ounce golden rum
1 ounce dark run
Fresh mint or wedge of fresh pineapple, for garnish (optional)
Put the ice cubes in a glass. Add the pineapple juice, bourbon, triple sec, and golden rum. Give the ingredients a stir to combine. Gently pour on the dark rum to create a rich brown ‘floater.’
Are you a Mai Tai maker? What’s your recipe?
P.S. If the Mai Tai isn’t your thing, try the Rangoon ruby made with vodka!