While the Tonga Room has long been known as the place to get a dose of glorious tiki kitsch, their food and cocktail offerings haven't been updated in some time, and were definitely showing their age. Enter new bar manager JP Cote, who decided to give the menu some much-needed shaking up. "The menu was the same for decades, using subpar product and syrups," says Cote. "We wanted to be fresher, with fresh lime, lemon, and pineapple juice, and to use better product. People were ordering one cocktail, and it was so sugary, they wouldn't order a second one."
So he revamped the menu, reducing the number of drinks from 21 to 10 and knocking out the prepackaged mixers. In their place are ingredients like Jamaican blackstrap molasses rum, locally-made orgeat, Benedictine mist, and agave nectar, and recipes lifted (with permission) from two of the city's best bars: the famed Tommy's margarita, and the Smuggler's Cove punchbowl, with white rum and yellow Chartreuse. "San Franciscans are very knowledgeable about their liquor, and we want to respect that," says Cote, who estimates that the Tonga's clientele is 70 percent locals. Here's the new drink menu.
To match the revamped drinks, new chef de cuisine William Birks (who previously worked for the Fairmont in Sonoma at Michelin-starred Santé) has introduced a new menu of more authentic plates, like coconut-marinated fish, chilled soba noodles, pork-belly sliders, and pork bao. Here it is in full, and here's the dessert menu, which features a $24 monster sundae done in the style of a volcano bowl. "People have been really happy about it, and the feedback has been great," says Cote. Michael Bauer dropped by, and while he didn't seem to notice the menu had changed, he noted the food "seemed a little better than the last time I visited, though that's faint praise."
While the Tonga's menu might be a little more new-school these days, Cote says that the essentials, like the decor, music, and rain show, won't change. "Tonga Room isn't going anywhere. We want it to stick around for another 70 years, and all we're planning to do is maintain it," says Cote.