Now let me get way out in front of this one and just state right off that I loved it. I gather from some pre-dinner Googling that The Tonga Room is a pretty popular place to hate these days but, as is usually the case, I think the haters are missing the point. The Tonga Room is not a great restaurant but it is a great time machine.
I'm tempted not even to mention the food. Everything tasted similar, lots of sugar, very sticky. Nothing great. Nothing disgusting. Although, I've yet to find a truly bad coconut shrimp and I can see the stoner in me making up a batch of their special Tonga sauce (mustard, sugar, soy, molasses and mayonaise) at home. The green tea ice cream chocolate cake dessert was really good, in that way a square of Sara Lee cake with a scoop of green tea ice cream is really good.
So, what did I love? Well it is way bigger than I thought it would be, like three times bigger, and decked floor to ceiling in Polynesian splendor. There is a full size pool in the middle just barely disguised as a tropical lagoon. There is a christmas light festooned pleasure boat in the middle of the pool that floats around while a band (a really good band in fact) plays your favorite Hawaiian, motown and disco hits. Every thirty minutes the room fills with the sounds of thunder, strobe lights fill in as lightning and rain falls from the sprinklers in the ceiling splattering into the pool and off of the omnipresent thatch.
I've entirely bought into this whole new Tiki craze and while The Tonga Room will never replace my favorite tiki bar, Smuggler's Cove, it does offer something that Smuggler's does not. Namely, an authentic throwback tacky-tiki experience. If you want to sample 200 rare and vintage rums head to Smugglers Cove, but sometimes for that true tiki feeling you just want a watery rum and Hawaiian punch, sipped from a ceramic volcano, lagoon-side, surrounded by tourists and lulled by the strains of your favorite Don Ho cover band. If that is the case head proudly to The Tonga Room.
The Tonga Room
950 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA 94129