After my sorority initiation, we celebrated at the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in San Francisco's Fairmount Hotel. Amid the Bay Area fog and Union Square sophistication, it was a kitschy, campy fake Polynesian paradise, featuring a tiki-boat-cum-stage that floats across the pool with a full band, and a "monsoon" and thunderstorm that sprays the dance floor every half hour. I don't remember a thing about the food, but I do remember a partaking in a few gigantic tropical drinks for four people that might have been called a Scorpion Bowl. (Perhaps that explains why I do remember spending part of the evening sliding down the Fairmount staircase bannisters).
But the Tonga Room is hardly the best known of Bay Area's tiki attractions. That honor goes to Oakland's Trader Vic's, one of the original tiki-themed restaurants and soon after opening in 1936, one of the most popular watering holes of its time. Trader Vic's gave us the original Mai Tai. I've never been there, but the December 2004 Saveur has a delightful article on it, and more importantly, some intriguing recipes from the restaurant.
The one I wanted to try was Bongo Bongo soup. With a name like that, who could resist?
It is made of spinach, fresh oysters, and a bit of clam juice, in a lot of half and half, and flavored with hot sauce, Worcestshire sauce, and A-1 sauce ... a pureed spinach and oyster bisque, I suppose. It was creamy and delicious, and went well with our crab cakes to a light, sea-worthy meal. Easy to make, tasty to eat, and above all, fun to say. Bongo bongo!