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Review of the Month

The search for the Ultimate Mai Tai:Trader Vic's at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel Trader Vic's at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel
17 East Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603

Aloha Mai! Where shall I begin......It all started a few months ago because of an online discussion for recipes for this "Tropical Delight - The Mai Tai". Everyone has their favorite rendition, of course; and so the recipes flew fast and furious across miles and miles of fiber-optics and computers!

I am a frequent "postee" of run by Bob & Shirley Stoffer out of the Big Island of Hawaii near Holualoa and Kailua-Kona, even though I am a life- long resident of Chicago, Illinois and its environs. I have had the fortune to visit the Hawaiian Islands 12 times (so far...and counting...) and have made numerous friends because of our "obsession" with all things Hawaiian, especially Mai Tai's!! During our exchange of recipes, the history of Trader Vic's and the original Mai Tai drink recipe was posted by John Rabi, a realtor who is a resident of the Big Island and another big fan of this "tummy warmer" as it was called in the Elvis Movie "Blue Hawaii." I had remembered that Chicago has long had a Trader Vic's Restaurant and Boat Bar Lounge located in The Palmer House Hilton Hotel, which prompted me to get into the discussion because of Mr. Rabi talking about the one located in California.

And due to my "stubborn" nature, I did some Internet surfing for research to make a point. In doing so, I "hit" upon the site created by Mr. Kevin Crossman called with its "Search for the Ultimate Mai Tai" section. I emailed Kevin; he asked if I would be willing to do a review and rating of the Chicago Trader Vic's, and so here I am with my report at last!

On Thursday, October 26, 2000, I had the wonderful experience of having the Indonesian variety lunch buffet and sampling two absolutely SUPERB ULTIMATE MAI TAI'S, expertly concocted by Mr. Francisco Juarez, bartender extroardinaire of the day. I was also given the pleasure to be served at my table by Benny, a 32- year veteran of Trader Vic's Chicago restaurant. I did not hide the fact that I was just an "amateur" reviewer and explained my mission that day, the Search for the Ultimate Mai Tai, and that I would be posting an online review at several websites.

In speaking with Benny and asking questions, he so kindly went to get the chef who came to our table!! Baasim Zafar told us of the new happy hour program entitled "Tiki Time" which runs from 4:30PM to 6:30PM Monday through Friday. Tiki Time includes complimentary pu-pu's (Hawaiian for hors d'oeuvres, snack time appetizers to da max!), and authentic Hawaiian Entertainment. The most popular night is Friday, of course, since we Chicagoans like to start the weekends off right! And what better place to warm up Polynesian style especially during a cold, cold winter's night!!

My overall rating for both the atmosphere and the Mai Tai's is 10 drinks out of 5, meaning that this place is a favorite of mine, all around! The drink quality was more than excellent. The ratio of rums to mix was just right - subtle and smooth, what I like to call a "Sneaky Pete" kind of a drink, catches you when you least expect it! The first 12-ounce tumbler went down "quietly" enough - but the second one was the "creme de la creme, par excellance" !! Two of these drinks will make ANYONE feel like they are on the Beach at Waikiki, guaranteed! Warm and fuzzy all over and wanting to do the Hula!! Mr. Juarez really knows how to mix a Mai Tai that will "shake up" anyone's grass skirt! I have had a 22-ounce Mai Tai served up at LuLu's on Ali'i Drive in Kona, Hawaii; and in my opinion, there is nothing like the Original Trader Vic's Mai Tai, always a NUMBER ONE CONTENDER in the Search For The Ultimate Mai Tai!! Served with the requisite paper umbrella, pineapple chunk and cherry on a stick in a hefty rocks glass instead of a ceramic "kitschy" kind of Tiki head from days gone by, it still ranks way up there!

I know that Kevin feels it is very hard to give a "perfect 5" for a drink review, but I rated this as a total experience - service, friendliness, atmosphere, entertainment, drink and mix quality. I even was presented a small gardenia in appreciation. Now, how can you beat that? And the curry beef on the buffet table was just spicy enough for anyone's palate, yummm!

The luncheon atmosphere here is typical Midwestern business lunch, conservative yet the walls of the restaurant are nautically decorated; but the Tiki Time happy hour really rocks! The entertainment is always great, and there are prizes and surprises all featured with a Polynesian twist. The bar and lounge area are tastefully done with a bamboo and conch shells decor, still reminiscent of years gone by. And of course, the Trader Vic's Mai Tai is still being served up "in style" as always!!

I truly wish to express and extend my thanks to the gracious staff and employees at Trader Vic's Restaurant and Boat Bar in The Chicago Palmer House Hilton Hotel. Their courtesy and professionalism, and most of all their "Aloha Spirit" made me feel like I really was back in the South Seas on a white sand beach.

Mahalo nui loa.

Taste: *****
Atmosphere: *****
Date Visited: October 26, 2000
Reviewed By: Margaret A. Pyzik