Where to find excellent Mai Tai?
I just got back from Honolulu and had excellent Mai Tai's at Halekulani (at House without a Key and Orchids).
They were superb and now I'd like to find an equivalent in Manhattan.
I found a suggestion on Chowhound from two years back for Flatiron Lounge. Does anyone have a more current recommendation?
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After reading this thread on my phone, I went on a bit of a Tiki Crawl in search of a great Mai Tai in NYC. I started at The Rusty Knot on all the recommendations I saw here. It was a fun looking bar with really cool, nice, easygoing bartenders, but the crowd was annoying (sort of frat-housey) and the Mai Tais, though tasty mixed drinks, weren't actually Mai Tais. They lacked orgeat completely. HOWEVER: if you go to the Rusty Knot, which I do really recommend, the spiced colada is absolutely fantastic. They also make their own ginger juice for their dark and stormy, so try that, too.
Otto's Shrunken Head came next. Great punk rock tiki atmosphere with a fun crowd, but sam1 isn't kidding about getting the right bartender. I got a different bartender than my two friends, and their Mai Tais were downright passable. Mine was a completely different drink, completely undrinkable. It had grenadine and possibly pineapple rum and it was a horrendous combination of too sweet and clashy flavors. I highly recommend snagging the bartender with the shaggy bleach-blond hair if she's there. If she's not, get a beer.
The Rusty Knot
425 West St, New York, NY 10014
Otto's Shrunken Head
538 E 14th St, New York, NY 10009
Finding a great mai tai in NYC has been the holy grail for the local tiki-philes for some time now. For reference, a REAL classic mai tai is some close variation on :
1 ounce Fine Jamaican Rum (15 or 8 year old)
1 ounce Martinique Rum (St. James)
1/2 ounce Orange Curacao
1/2 ounce Orgeat Syrup (aka almond syrup)
Juice from one fresh lime (about 3/4 ounce)
(anything major deviation from above is NOT a mai tai!)
So, here are a few options:
Elettaria -- most if not all of the bartenders can make great mai tais, although they are not on the menu -- just ask. they use a recipe pretty close to the original Trader Vics and use proper rums and real orgeat syrup. This is a go-to spot for a proper mai tai!
Flatiron Lounge - I ordered one a few weeks ago and it was mediocre at best. When I ordered a second and told them it should be rummier they said "sorry, we're out of orgeat". Not good! They have a rum/tiki cocktail on the menu now which is mai tai-ish, but a bit on the fruity side, and cant remember the name.
Chinatown Brasserie -- their signature drink is a frozen mai tai! Or they'll make it the normal way. BUT, they use pineapple juice (heresy!) but it isnt bad and their duck spring rolls are wonderful -- in fact, a frozen mai tai - duck spring roll session at the CB bar is a wonderful way to kill an afternoon!
Otto's Shrunken Head -- it's a cheapo approximation of a mai tai, I think with a single rum, and will vary from sicky sweet or weak depending upon who's mixing. Definitely wouldnt go out of my way for one, but their "Shrunken Head" cocktail is much better (has coconut flavor, i suspect from Malibu rum)
Shun Lee West (believe it or not) -- a bit on the sweet side but they don't always have orgeat in stock.
Peking Duck House (uptown) -- their Planters Punch isnt a mai tai but it's a pretty good tiki cocktail in its own right.
Otherwise, on any given night the bartenders at Death and Co, PDT, Pegu Club, etc will probably make a good one if it's not too busy and they're in a tiki mood.
Aloha, and good luck!
I called the bar in Honolulu that made the Mai Tai that knocked my socks off. They kindly gave me the recipe they use:
1.25 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
.75 ounce bacardi select
.75 ounce bacardi gold
.4 ounce rock candy syrup (simple syrup with vanilla)
.4 ounce orgeat almond syrup
.4 ounce orange Curacao floating on top
They serve it with crushed ice, a purple orchid floating on top and a spear of raw sugar cane in the drink.
Mai Tai update:
Sadly, Elettaria, one of the few reliable sources for a proper mai tai in NYC, recently closed. :-( As soon as I identify where the knowledgable and talented bar staff lands, I'll post it.
In the meanwhile, the history of the mai tai:
Note on the above recipe posted by bsomlo -- it's the real deal. But truly great mai tais are all about the rums -- those barcardi rums are, shall we say, a bit pedestrian and blah. Something like El Dorado 15 yr adds complexity consistent with the original Trader Vics rums: http://www.tradertiki.com/on-demerara...
Just FYI to people looking for where the former head bartender of Elettaria went - Joseph Swifka, who came up with the Tiki Monday menu now works at Flatiron Lounge on Fridays. He can make an authentic Mai Tai, as well as Zombies, Three Dots and a Dash, Suffering Bastards, and other tiki drinks.
37 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011
33 West 8th Street, New York, NY 10011