Los Angeles: Luau

Rock promoter Andy Hewitt is intent on bringing the tiki lounge back to L.A. in the guise of Luau, a vamped-up tribute to the defunct original where the Rat Pack and other Hollywood notables used to frolic. Starting from scratch in a new location, he partnered with designer Loree Rodkin, best known for her glam gothic jewelry (Michelle Obama wore her pieces during the inauguration festivities), to give the kitschy genre a little romance. Working with Ben Bassham, a.k.a. “Bamboo Ben,“ grandson of the original Luau’s, she’s combined Turkish lanterns, tropical foliage, Easter Island heads, and lots of bamboo and rope in a way that seems almost restrained (that is, if you’re remembering flaming torches and Polynesian tchotchkes).

Mixologist Jeff Berry, author of Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log, did some sleuthing to come up with a few of the original Luau cocktail recipes. I’m suspecting he tweaked them, too, because the Mai Tai and other exotic drinks are so vibrant and zingy, they could bring back the tiki craze all on their own. But Hewitt has another ace up his sleeve: chef and partner Makoto “Mako” Tanaka, a former executive chef at both Chinois on Main and Spago, who has his own restaurant, Mako, in Beverly Hills. He’s having some fun with the tiki lounge idea, too, keeping the Polynesian theme going but mixing in some Pacific Rim cuisine, plus touches of Japan and France.

Pupu platters? Assemble your own from a list of nouvelle and classic items. There are sticky tamarind-glazed ribs, dainty crêpes filled like tacos with Peking-style duck and bright mango salsa, pulled pork spring rolls, and char siu pork with pea tendrils. Salmon comes wrapped and steamed in a giant banana leaf with coconut rice. Maine lobster gets the wok treatment and a Thai basil sauce. The best main course, though, may be the Wagyu steak—highly marbled (and highly expensive)—from Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan.  

Hewitt and Tanaka are still tinkering with Luau’s menu, which is a good sign. Meanwhile, those dishy cocktails are reason enough for a nostalgic look back on the tiki era.

Luau 369 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills (310-274-0090)



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