Monday, December 17, 2012

Restaurant Review:Grass Skirt Tiki Room

I was visiting Big Mike in Columbus last weekend, and when the clock was headed in the direction of happy hour Mike suggested we go and check out the latest edition to the Columbus restaurant scene: The Grass Skirt Tiki Room. I'm old enough to have experienced several Tiki restaurants and bars, so I was enthusiastically in favor of this selection. Here's what you'll find at the Grass Shack.

The Grass Skirt

105 N. Grant Ave. (corner of Grant and Long); Columbus, OH
(614) 429 - 3650
Hours of Operation
Tuesday - Thursday: 11am to midnight
Friday and Saturday: 11am to 1am
Sunday and Monday: Closed

For those who have never been in a Tiki bar, here's an what you should know before going in. The whole Tiki bar business took off sometime around the original Rat Pack (Bogart and his pals) and was over with when John Travolta did his best impression of a talented hustle dancer on the silver screen.  Back then everyone got dressed to the nines when they went out to dinner, which meant a suit and tie for the men.  If you didn't wear a tie, you'd be seated in the bar.  If you wore jeans, you wouldn't be seated at all.  Don't like it?  Fine.  That's the way it was.  Anyhow, someone got the bright idea that a Polynesian or South Seas theme would provide a more casual atmosphere and the race was on.  Tiki rooms started springing up all over and featured indoor waterfalls, exotic jungle plants, Polynesian devil masks, decorative fish nets with glass floats, Tiki torches, 1000 gallon aquariums with mermaids swimming around in them and Polynesian style music which was called 'exotica' and played by such orchestras as Martin Denny.  The big draw outside of the decor were the waitresses, who were all gorgeous women dressed up in flowers and revealing tropical style sarongs, and the drinks, which were mainly rum and fruit juice.

The Grass Skirt managed the decor without any trouble.  The place has exotic plants, Tiki totems and numerous Polynesian style bric-à-brac all over the place.  Note that the hostess station is very effectively camouflaged by the decor. 

Hostess Station
I think this may be a dangerous exotic plant of some sort, possibly a sub-species of Angel's Trumpet.  Anyone knowing for sure is welcome to leave a comment.

Dangerous Exotic Plant
I liked the waterfall running along the front wall.  In the bad old days this display might have featured a giant Tiki mask to which your server would perform obeisance before bringing you your drink.

Here's the bar, which has an unusual shape to it.  There were four bartenders at work while we were there, and a fifth kept running in and out as needed.

The Bar
Tiki Decor

Note the Fan Blades
I got a kick out of the fan blades, shaped like giant plant leaves.  Whoever put the place together did a great job with it and paid a lot of attention to detail.

Drink Menu
This is where you'll find the quintessential tropical drink with the umbrella in it.  Tiki drinks are infamous for being very tasty and very strong.  Consider these two traditional drink recipes:

The Zombie  (3 ½ ounces of rum)
½ oz light rum
1 ½ oz golden rum
1 oz dark rum
½ oz Bacardi 151 rum
1 tsp orange juice
1 tsp sour mix
1 oz lime juice
1 tsp fine sugar

Fog Cutter (2 ½ ounces of rum)
1½ ounce light rum
½ ounce gin
½ ounce brandy
1 ounce orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ teaspoon orgeat syrup
1 teaspoon sweet sherry

My experience is that these drinks were often topped off with fruit juice or soda water and served in a tall novelty glass of some kind.  The juice disguised the rum, and before you could find better sense you would knock back your first drink like a real trooper and be half way through your second before you realized that sitting on a bar stool requires balance.  The Grass Skirt validates my experience.

Big Mike order Navy Grog, and I can't remember what I ordered.  I know it was good and I remember distinctly I wanted another one, but since Big Mike declined a refill I followed his example.

The bartenders at the Grass Skirt really know how to pour a drink, but watching them work behind the bar put me in mind of a Chinese fire drill.  The thing is that most bar customers order beer, which is dead brain easy to serve.  The rest of the population either wants white wine (women), a cocktail (men) or some crazy made up concoction like a Suck, Bang and Blow or a Slow, Comfortable Screw (obnoxious frat boys and girls).  The bartender must cope with that last group, but remember that most people are ordering beer so time-wise things tend to even out.  The Tiki bar is a huge exception to this expected behavior, as over half the customers are going to want a Tiki drink which requires a lot of time to make, especially if the proper garnish is included.  My advice is to get your drink order in immediately and be patient.  You'll get your drink, but it may take a while.  My drink was not served with a garnish, which is a huge mistake at any Tiki bar.

Tiki Glass
For an extra three dollars you can get your drink in a souvenir Tiki glass that goes home with you.  We did this as a sort of novelty, and because I expect we'll return and advance Big Mike's Tiki mug collection by another two glasses very soon.  The Grass Skirt hasn't come up with a name or a story behind the deity on the glass, which I think is a mistake.  The deity is likely some sort of fertility god with a specialty in wine and good luck, but that's as far as I'll speculate.

We ordered a few side dishes instead of a full meal, and both of us were satisfied.  We had Crab Rangoon, Sweet Potato Wedges, Thai Pineapple Fried Rice Bowl and Teriyaki Mushroom Lettuce Wraps.  The sweet potato wedges were crispy on the outside, tender inside and not greasy.  The wedges are bland, but the sauce fixes that situation nicely.  The crab rangoon is excellent, again due to the sauce.  The big winner was the fried rice bowl which I thought was outstanding.  The lettuce wraps were very unimpressive.  The dish needs something to turn it up an notch or two.  Big Mike suggested ginger, and I agree with him.

Food service was provided by one overworked woman who couldn't keep the tables straight.  She'd come out with a tray of dishes and go searching for the recipient.  I came close to getting an early dinner, but being under the influence of a considerable amount of rum I wasn't fast enough.  We received our dinner in good time, and given the attitude of the servers I'm very certain the place will improve.

I have two complaints about the Grass Skirt.  One: the service desperately needs to get itself organized.  Since the place is new and somewhat popular, the management is too busy working to see what's happening around the bar, dining room and kitchen let alone taking time to train people.  Lack of training is a common mistake, but the results tend to have an impact on profit.  Two: the sound system sucks pond scum.  Big Mike commented that he'd like to see a restaurant, any restaurant, install a decent sound system.  I agree with him.  The dining room at the Grass Skirt is small and the acoustics aren't all that great, but the speakers sound like something that one of the wait staff found sitting on the curb at the start of Spring Break - and I'm talking the curb next to the college dormitory.  With all the money spent on the decor, why subject the patrons to a sound system that likely started out as a public address system in an elementary school?

I liked the Grass Skirt and I'll be back in a few weeks.  Maybe by then a new sound system will be up and running and the wait staff will be working smarter and not harder.

In summary:
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Service: 7
  • Food: 8

1 comment:

Roland Hansen said...

Thanks for the review. That place sure sounds interesting. I remember finding The Kahiki at 3583 East Broad Street in Columbus many, many years ago. With its interesting architecture, decor, food, and liquid refreshments, it became one of my regular stops whenever I went to Columbus. Unfortunately, Kahiki did not make it into the 21st Century; I think that location is now a Walgreen's store.