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Name: Tiki Tatsu-Ya
Description: Tiki Tatsu-ya is an immersive experience, a place to escape the modern world and to an island paradise.
At the entrance, located at the back of the building on Lamar Square Dr., guests will find themselves embarking on an adventure into two separate yet connected spaces. Through wooden porthole doors, they venture into the cave, peering up at a giant, two-story Shisa Dragon rock fountain, and exploring deeper to find rock walls flanked with skulls, a shield wall, and nautical accents like fishing nets and floats. A cozy booth across the fountain puts guests in the belly of an ancient trade ship, with portholes depicting scenes from the island’s discovery. At the end of the cave sits the main bar, adorned with layers of eye-catching woodwork and boasting a collection of custom mugs, glasses and a world-class selection of rum.
Upstairs, the scenery transitions to a beach hut hideaway, the Nest bar, permanently lit in sunset tones through shuttered windows that keep the outside world at bay. Shibori (Japanese dyed fabrics), bamboo ceilings and accents, and a large art piece depicting the journey of the Japanese Ama diver (pearl diver), along with views of the Shisa Dragon fountain below, set the scene.
[ Edited by davidphantomatic on 2022-03-15 09:29:29 ]
[ Edited by davidphantomatic on 2022-03-15 09:29:48 ]
Here’s a review I wrote after being invited to their friends and family opening back in September 2021. I wouldn’t change anything about the review and if anything, my love for Tiki Tatsu-Ya has only grown since then.
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m still in a post-Tiki Tatsu-Ya daze. I came into the office, put on a Tikiyaki Orchestra record to set the mood and proceeded to write. Given my last review, and my newfound reputation for honesty, I hope that you will take what I write as the truth and not as an opportunity for me to do a 180 from the last time. Speaking of which, as we ended our journey through Tiki Tatsu-Ya and were leaving this amazing place we ran into a pair of fellow Texas Tikiphiles. One of them asked, “so are you going to write a good review this time?” To which I replied, “yes, because they’ve earned it.” So here it is…
Simply put, Tiki Tatsu-Ya is incredible! Perhaps I should give this a couple days to fully digest what we just experienced, however I feel like I need to ride this high. From start to finish, Tiki Tatsu-Ya is a genuine experience; the likes of which Texas has not seen in quite some time, possibly since the historic Polynesian Village closed… the type of tiki experience from a time now long gone. As I’ve said a couple times since last night, this is as close as you will come to experiencing Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, or Steve Crane’s Luau in their heyday.
Saturday morning I received a somewhat suspicious Facebook message informing me that a table for four was available for the evening, and asked if I would be interested. I don’t know the folks associated with Tiki Tatsu-Ya, so the thought that someone would randomly reach out for their Friends and Family soft-opening seemed too good to be true. I researched to find out who this individual was and found out he works for the company. My next immediate instinct was to respond with, “YES!” A brief conversation later, I received the confirmation email and we were in.
We made the trek from San Antonio to Austin. Due to heavy traffic on 35, I called to let them know we would run a couple minutes late for our reservation. As soon as we arrived, and before I could even give my name to the hostess, she commented: “Welcome, we have your table waiting for you.” They must have employed psychic hosts or we were the only 6:45 reservation; either way, it was impressive. Before they showed us to our table, they once again asked if anyone in our group had food allergies. We were then whisked away to our table.
The Build / Decor
The build for this place has been locked up pretty tight. I hadn’t seen images posted prior to the soft opening, so I really didn’t know what to expect. As soon as we walked in, I was impressed! The building is two stories and you enter through a mid-level entrance. There is ample seating upstairs and downstairs. Soft green lights lined the path on the short journey up the narrow stairway, and the walls are adorned with tiki appropriate lauhala matting trimmed in bamboo. There are various framed photos on the wall, presumably from the Aikawa brother’s travels, and the ceiling is covered with fish traps and bamboo lamps. To ground you in where we’re at so far, this is just the stairway leading to the second level of the restaurant. As you reach the top of the stairs, a pair of automatic doors fold open (resembling Japanese room dividers) and present a bar with ample seating. There are several tables near the entrance, a more “private” hut across from a giant fountain, and several more tables in the back. The upstairs space would have even been enough for a small, intimate tiki experience.
We were seated at a four top in the back corner of the second floor; the perfect location for taking it all in. Our server, Rachel (who was incredible) welcomed us with cups of water, a brief overview of the menus and what to expect for the evening. She asked if we had been given a ticket for a “large format” cocktail, we told her we had not, but we were more than happy to have individual cocktails. Be advised, reservations are showing to be an hour and a half through Resy, but we were given 2 hours. You’ll see small white pucks on the table, those aren’t mints. Your server will tell you more about those.
The Cocktails (and Food)
Being the tikiphiles we are, Jen and I had long decided ahead of time what our first round was going to be, a Zombie and a Mai Tai. Those both come with swizzles and we had to get our Tiki Tatsu-Ya swizzle collection started. While we waited for our cocktails to arrive, we sat, talked, and tried to soak in exactly what we were seeing, then the lights went out. Thunder erupted, the lights began to flicker, and a large smoking bowl was being delivered to a nearby table. The S.O.S (Stranded on Saturn) had been ordered. Now we know they definitely have the theatrics down! A few moments later our cocktails arrived, very impressively garnished, and looking beautifully appetizing. My Mai Tai was served as I typically make them at home, a bit of Mai Tai with my mint. The menu boasts a Mai Tai “paired with fresh Martinique rhums, aged Jamaican and dark St. Lucian rums with miso-almond orgreat, lime, and mandarin.” If we’ve ever spent more than five minutes together, I’m sure I’ve told you about my favorite Mai Tai in all the land, as served at UnderTow in Phoenix. Tiki Tatsu-Ya‘s Mai Tai may have commandeered the spot for my #1 Mai Tai. It was bright, refreshing, and incredibly balanced. Jen’s Zombie was also top notch; one of the best I’ve had at any bar. It was a spicy, flavor bomb, without being overpowering. Both of these are highly recommended and they’re served in the appropriate glassware emblazoned in amazing Tatsu-Ya branded designs from Austin’s own, Tony Canepa.
As we enjoyed our first round, we ordered a few plates, which are meant to be shared. We started with the Spam on the Half Shell, Crab Lagoon, and Slingin’ Shrimp Musubi. While we waited for our food, we put in another round of cocktails, my second hoist was the One-Way Ticket and Jen opted for one of her personal favorites, a Chartreuse Swizzle. If we’ve ever spent 10 minutes together, I’m sure I’ve told you about how the Jet Pilot is overall my favorite tiki cocktail. Seeing as the menu describes the One-Way Ticket as inspired by the Jet Pilot, this was naturally my next cocktail selection. The food arrived and it was all amazing! For us, the Shrimp Musubi was my personal favorite snack of the evening and we may have ordered another round of it before we left. The next round of cocktails arrived and the excellence continued. As described on the menu, the One-Way Ticket is a “mashup of Scotch, amari, cinnamon, pholernum, lime, grapefruit, and guava.” Had I not read the menu, I would never have guessed this cocktail had Scotch in it. While all around very flavorful, the spice was the prominent flavor that all the other ingredients helped to showcase. The Chartreuse Swizzle was also great and hit all the herbal notes it should.
As we were enjoying our second round, Vin (the head of operations who had invited us out), stopped by to greet the table and welcome us. We were only about 30 minutes into our visit and had so many things to rave to him about: a general satisfaction with the overall experience thus far, how gorgeous the space was, how fantastic the service had been to that point. He graciously accepted our fanboy/fangirling and commented that he gave a coupon to our server for us to enjoy one of the large format cocktails. Our server returned and suggested more food…who were we to say no? For round two of food, we ordered the Pupu Platter, Tropical Cheese Plate, and another round of Shrimp Musubi. Again, the food was phenomenal. The Pupu was plenty for 4, or 2 if y’all are really hungry. The cheese plate was great as well offering a few different cheeses paired with tropical jams/spreads. Around this time, we were at about the 1 hour and 15 minute mark of our journey and opted for a final round of cocktails before our amazing send off. I went with the Zombie and Jen tried the Slurping Bastard. As we already know, the Zombie was fantastic, but the Slurping Bastard may have been one of the stars of the show. This cocktail packs a serious ginger punch, it’s bold and spicy without being unapproachable. We both highly recommend trying this one! Besides, who can deny the charm of the Bastard mug with his bowl of ramen and Texas headband?
It was about this time that our worst fears came to fruition, our journey would soon be ending. While we knew our time here was coming to an end, our server never made us feel pressured to leave or wrap things up. She suggested one more round of food to go along with our final hoist, the aptly named Skeleton Cruise. I foresee this being one of the most popular cocktails at Tiki Tatsu-Ya. Its Instagramability knows no bounds. For our final bites, we chose the Squid Luau and Maguro Poke. I’m sure by this point, it’s comes as no surprise that these plates were also fantastic. As they cleared our plates and empty glasses, the room went black once more. Flashes of light streaked across the room and the thunder roared as the fabled Skeleton Cruise arrived. Glowing red and billowing smoke, this was one cruise from which we might not return. For as large as this vessel was, it was still garnished with pineapple fronds, orchids, slices of pineapple, orange, dragonfruit, starfruit and chocolate coins with the Tiki Tatsu-Ya logo. I mean, custom chocolate coins? Every single aspect of this bar has been thought out and executed to perfection!
With that our journey was over. Our server brought our bill and provided a card with a QR code to complete a survey. As this was a soft opening for friends and family, Tiki Tatsu-Ya took care of their guests and we were more than happy to share our thoughts on our experience. While this may have been a “soft opening” I think that was merely a formality. This is a well oiled tiki machine. If they opened tomorrow, you’d have thought they’d been open for at least a year or more.
I really cannot say enough good things about this place. This is THE tiki mecca in Texas and is poised to be the next big tiki destination in the U.S. Cocktails, food, music, decor, hospitality, and branding are all home runs. If you’ve visited any of the previous Tatsu-Ya locations, this should come as no surprise as to how great their tiki spot already is. However, this is an upscale experience. What makes Tiki Tatsu-Ya special is that this can be as much of an experience as you would like. If you want to stop by for a cocktail, they’ve got bar seating for you. If you want to do shareable snacks and drinks, you can do that too. It’s really up to you to decide how your journey unfolds.
On September 22, Tiki Tatsu-Ya formally announced they opened reservations with an opening date of October 4. They booked out all of October before the end of the day. If you were one of the lucky ones that was able to secure a reservation, then you are in for a hell of a treat. If you were not, well keep an eye on their Resy and schedule your journey as soon as you can…you will not regret it!
Thank you for an amazing experience, Tiki Tatsu-Ya! Welcome to my top five!
I am off this this island tonight!
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