Bar Report: Monkeypod Kitchen
Left: the Monkeypod mai tai, right: blended Don Tiki
92-1048 Olani Street, Ko Olina
Peter Merriman's Monkeypod Kitchen picks up the cocktail slack where other casual concepts fall short. In general, the drinks are crafted with attention to detail, using a finely-tuned combination of locally-sourced ingredients and fresh flavor combinations.
We love Monkeypod's semi-outdoor seating and live music, though the upstairs bar is always my choice for the best cocktails. There's also a quality beer selection, including microbrews and beers from around the world.
Tim Rita, formerly of The Modern's Lobby Bar, 53 By the Sea, and Halekulani's Lewers Lounge, is one of the bartenders (or bar chefs as Monkeypod likes to call them). He loves to play with seasonal ingredients, and he uses them in sophisticated ways. We enjoyed his blended Don Tiki, which featured a lemongrass-cardamom syrup, local Thai basil, amaretto, and blended scotch. A seasonal, off-menu mai tai balanced Rita's lavender-peppercorn falernum—a take on the clove-almond-ginger cordial that adorns many tiki drinks—against a blend of local rums, resulting in a transcendent experience for this tiki fanatic.
A super crowd pleaser, however, was bartender Brad Miller's play on the Corpse Reviver #2. Miller's variation balanced Bols Genever (a Holland-style gin) with his local strawberry-lavender syrup, Lillet blanc and muddled Thai basil, the drink garnished with flamed orange oil. While the components change frequently due to seasonal availability, the quality of the drinks doesn't.
While I've heard others gripe about the food and its consistency, I think the bar menu is one of the better ones on Oahu. My go-to items include the wood-fired chicken wings ($13.95), the smoked taro hummus ($8.95), the vegan Portuguese soup ($6.95), fresh fish tacos ($17.95) and the house made coconut pie.
As with many large restaurants, cocktails can be spotty if sitting in the dining room; truly the best bar experience is at the bar itself. Otherwise, Monkeypod holds its own in Hawaii's cocktail scene.
[Correction 7/26: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated Tim Rita as the bar manager; Jason Pohlman is the bar manager.]