Band on Boat in Tonga Room

Band on Boat in Tonga Room

SAN FRANCISCO (DAY TWO OF FOUR) — Mai Tai or Virgin Colada?

No we’re not in some tropical resort though we could be with the South Seas tiki décor, the lagoon that bisects the restaurant and the tropical rainstorms over the lagoon.

We’re in the middle of San Francisco—on Nob Hill to be exact in the historic Fairmont  San Francisco, at the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar.  This has been a San Francisco fixture since 1945 (the hotel dates to 1907), famous for its tropical drinks and band that floats up and down the water on a thatched-covered barge.

This was one of the country’s first Polynesian restaurants, in fact, with a bartender who created the Mai Tai serving the restaurant’s signature drink for the next two decades.  The dance floor is built from the remains of the S.S. Forester, a lumber schooner that traveled between San Francisco and the South Sea Islands.

A $1 million renovation a few years ago spiffed up the décor—think eco-friendly bamboo tabletops—but the ambiance remains. No wonder this is consistently rated a top Happy Hour spot and the go-to place for birthday celebrations.

Now there has been an effort to update the food and drinks menu.  Of course it is still inspired by the South Sea Islands.  But the famous Mai Tai, Pineapple Royale and other tropical drinks are made with fresh fruit juices and less sugar.  (We opted for the very tasty lychee martinis made with lychee-infused vodka.)

Along with the famous Tonga Hot Pot (delicious!), Forbidden Blend Fried Rice,    dumplings egg rolls and the signature Whole Thai Fried Snapper served with its head and tail, there are many designated “Fairmont Lifestyle Cuisine” dishes –everything from steamed edamame to Dungeness Crab and avocado salad, soba noodles, seared Diver scallops served with braised leeks and Thai Green Curry with eggplant, green beans and bamboo shoots.

Snapper at Tonga Room

Snapper at Tonga Room

Yum!  What most impressed me was the Keiki menu for kids: A tropical salad with hearts of palm,  Teriyaki glazed Mahi Mahi with steamed broccolini,  “Huli Huli Chicken,” which is roast chicken with grilled pineapple,  and a Sweet Chili veggie stir fry that is served  with free range chicken, beef or organic tofu. Parents will be glad that the virgin tropical drinks kids love are made with fresh juices. 

Truth be told, the band got a little loud.  But those around us—including on the dance floor—didn’t seem to care.  They were too busy having fun.

More dumplings please!