A trip to an exotic locale is hard to resist. Especially when the lure happens to be in the East Valley. Touted as a tropical South Pacific-inspired escape, with its rum-infused cocktails and Polynesian-style cuisine, we decided to experience Trader Vic’s on a recent Friday night to see if the restaurant lives up to its enticing reputation.
The international franchise, which the late entrepreneur Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron debuted in California in the 1930s, returned to Scottsdale in June after a 14-year absence. The new incarnation, now based at Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho, is one of only 10 Trader Vic’s in the U.S.
But could this Polynesian-themed restaurant really make us forget we’re in the confines of a desert and about to dine on a South Pacific island?
The adventure begins
As we enter the dining room, candles flicker from dark wooden Tiki statues on the tables, softening the dimly lit space that’s filled with wicker and dark wood furnishings. Tiki figures abound, from the expressive masks adorning the walls to the miniature salt and pepper shakers on our table.
As the patrons seated near us happily chat between sips of tropical-looking drinks, my dinner companion Mike and I start skimming over the menu of dishes that range from Polynesian and Asian-prepared seafood and poultry to American classics such as New York steak and Veal Porterhouse. The selection is varied. It’s also pricey, especially for ordinary Asian fare like Kung Pao Chicken ($18) and Chicken Chow Mein (also $18).
We decide to go with the Mixed Mushroom and Pancetta Spaetzle Pan Fry with Aged Parmesan ($11) and Dungeness crab cakes with a red pepper vinaigrette and frisee salad ($15) as starters. For the entrees, we opt for the Ginger Steamed Hawaiian Sea Bass with Steamed Rice and Ponzu ($26) and wood-fired oven-roasted Red Bird Farms Half Chicken With Asian Vegetables ($22), which we were told would take 45 minutes to prepare.
While we wait for our entrees, Mike has the challenging task of sorting through Trader Vic’s extensive wine menu (which features 85 selections) and finding a pairing that would complement our eclectic dinner choices. While known for their rum drinks (legend has it Bergeron created the original Mai Tai), Trader Vic’s has a long-standing tradition of catering to wine connoisseurs as well.
Mike notes for a Polynesian-themed restaurant, Pacific Rim wine is noticeably absent. He instead selects a bottle of Rosenblum Zinfandel ($42) to go with our meal.
The appetizers prove to be flavorful, but not flawless. Mike’s mushroom dish is a tad bitter. We also find the crab cakes, while zesty, to be dry.
The entrees and Zinfandel prove to pair well.
The Zinfandel complements the richness of the sea bass while the acidity of the ponzu sauce balanced the otherwise hard tannins of the wine, enhancing the Zinfandel’s fruit flavorings.
The slow-cooked oven-roasted chicken was worth the wait. “The explosion of flavor from the chicken was a welcome surprise,” notes Mike, adding the “smokiness of the chicken and fruity Zinfandel are a Romeo and Juliet pairing.”
After an evening of good food and wine, we passed on the rich desserts, which include a tempting cheesecake ($7) and Tahitian Coffee Creme Brulee (also $7).
Was Trader Vic’s the escape we were expecting?
Although the service, entrees and wine are good, the room doesn’t transport us away from Scottsdale. But that’s just fine. When you are amid good company, you can pretend to be anywhere you want to be.
Appetizer: Mixed Mushroom and Pancetta Spaetzle Pan Fry With Aged Parmesan $11
Entree: Mixed Seafood Grill With Atlantic Salmon, Mahi Mahi, Prawn and Scallops $28
Dessert: Rum Ice Cream With Praline Sauce $6
Drinks: Extensive wine and cocktail selections
Trader Vic’s at Hotel Valley Ho
Where: 6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale
Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Bar opens daily at 4 p.m.
Price: Appetizers/side dishes $6-$15; entrees $22-$39; desserts $6-$13
Info: (480) 248-2000 or hotelvalleyho.com