It was 30-below-zero for the hundredth day in a row, and we needed a break. Airfares south were prohibitive, so we did the next best thing: We ducked into the Tiki Room, a baseball toss from Fenway Park -- if you throw like Pedro, that is. It was a good move. From the Polynesian-kitsch to the 60-ounce scorpion bowls, the place has an island vibe. There are shell lamps, wooden tikis behind the bar with fake flames, retro pictures of island guys and gals, and televisions showing "Gilligan's Island" reruns, along with such cult classics as "Blue Hawaii," "Beach Blanket Bingo," and "Gidget." During big games -- the Super Bowl and other playoffs -- a wide-screen TV is brought in.
The waitresses, clad in black pants and floral halters, place a pink lei around the necks of the girls, blue for the boys. That scorpion bowl costs $22, but it serves at least four, with
rum, brandy, vodka, and plenty of juice and fresh fruit. "Not to be drunk alone," comes the disclaimer. Or start with a mai tai, Singapore sling, mojito, or zombie -- they all bear paper umbrellas, skewers of fruit, and plastic monkeys dangling from the rims. "We try to offer escape from nine months of winter," says general manager Daren Smith. Being on Lansdowne Street, home of several nightclubs, does not mean that the Tiki Room draws college students. The night we're in -- with children -- the crowd is young professionals. It's not a couples place. Most of the parties in the 80-seat restaurant are four or more; there's a group of 19 in the back.
"There are lots of milestone birthdays, lots of bachelorette parties," says Dimitra Tsourianis, a manager. Recently, the Tiki hosted a triple 30th birthday party and the honorees -- a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead -- each had ordered a hula girl cake and had fresh leis flown in from Hawaii.
Because of the menu, which encourages sharing, the Tiki Room is a group dining experience, says Smith. This is island food: fresh and casual. Indeed, the menu is dominated by pu-pu platters: mix and match from 20 items or, "if choosing six is too much work," half a dozen pre-set platters. They're $18 each, but feed two. Don't even bother picking up the silver ware; this is finger food.
We tried the Classic, which included the typical Asian offerings: duck rolls, spicy chicken wings, crab rangoon, steamed dumplings, beef and chicken satay, and three dipping sauces: plum chili, hot mustard, and a ponzu or soy-ginger. The food was crispy when it needed to be (the rolls and crab rangoon) and tender when it needed to be (chicken, beef, and dumplings). It was flavorful, and the sauces added a nice jolt.
The Chicken & the Sea platter was more creative, with flash-fried calamari, cashew chicken spring rolls, chicken satay, clam and corn fritters, popcorn shrimp and chicken tenders served with honey mustard, scallion cream, and red pepper harissa. The fish offerings were lightly battered, and the fiery harissa sauce livened up the calamari, which tends to be a bit bland.
There's a vegetarian pu-pu platter, which includes spring rolls, plantains, crudites, and vegetable crepes, among other offerings. On the opposite end, there's "the curse reverser," with loaded potato skins, double order of Buffalo wings, reggae sausage, mozzarella sticks, and other tempting artery-cloggers.
A regular menu includes burgers and pulled-pork sandwiches ($7 each), which the kids at our table said were "wicked good." (During Red Sox season, there's a regular kids' menu, $5 and under). The five adult "entrees" are all priced from $11 to $13. We tried the Szechwan noodle bowl ($13), a healthy helping of garden veggies, with lo mein noddles, studded with crispy shrimp and chicken. It was a tasty, balanced meal.
There are only two choices for dessert. Don't miss the S'mores Pu-pu platter ($9). Kids of all ages will love spearing the marshmallows and toasting them until they're gooey and oozing, then sticking them between chocolate and cracker. Unfortunately, the Tiki was out of the Yum Yum fondue ($12) when we were there. Which gives us a good excuse to go back: honey chocolate fondue, assorted cookies, mango cheese cakes, rum balls, seven layer bars, chocolate macadamia nut brownies, and fruit skewers. Yum yum indeed.