I'm not normally a fan of "concept" restaurants. It always seems like the focus is on the music, the décor and the outfits instead of where it should be-on the food.
About nine months back, during the San Diego Film Festival, my girl had me meet her at Mister Tiki. We were hungry, so we got a couple of appetizers. I was surprised at how good they were-the tempura-style Thai curry calamari fries, in particular; slabs of calamari steak cut into French fry shapes, battered, fried and totally delicious. OK, so maybe all concept restaurants aren't so bad.
I don't know why it's taken me so long to go back to Mister Tiki-perhaps it's my Gaslamp prejudice-but I'm glad I did.
The folks behind Mister Tiki describe their cuisine as Pacific Island with Hawaiian, Japanese, Hong Kong and Thai influences. The menu is short, featuring a number of exotic, fruity cocktails; two different families of appetizers; and soups, salads and entrée plates.
We started by sharing a Lillikoi Mojito. Made from rum, passion fruit juice, mint and lime, it's a refreshing cocktail and something I'd order again, despite the steep $9 price tag.
As we sipped our mojito, we perused the menu. The appetizers are divided into two types: Pu Pus and "Dim Sim an Den Sum." Similarly, the entrées are divided between plates and noodle dishes. Agreeing that none of the entrées sounded anywhere near as interesting as the appetizers, we ordered Dim Sum and Pu Pus only, opting for the Dim Sum sampler, coconut crab cakes with mango purée and Korean-style short ribs with an orange soy glaze.
At $14, the sampler is a good bargain because you can pick three different items. We chose the curried pork potstickers with caramelized pineapple vinaigrette, rock shrimp lumpia with sour Bing cherry glaze and shrimp summer roll with Thai dipping sauce.
The potstickers were great-slightly sweet and crispy, with a mildly seasoned pork filling that tasted like it had been char-grilled, adding a nice depth of flavor. The dumplings were even better dunked into the pineapple vinaigrette.
The rock shrimp lumpia were also excellent, especially with the cherry dipping sauce. The only disappointment was the summer roll-shrimp aren't the strongest tasting seafood in the world, and here they were completely clobbered by the mango and avocado.
As for the Pu Pus, the crab cakes were particularly impressive. Creamy with coconut milk, the crisp, lightly fried cakes had a trace of curry flavor that was complemented nicely by the mango glaze. The ribs, while a bit salty, were meaty and tender, with a faint suggestion of smokiness.
Overall I was pleased with my experience at Mister Tiki, and I would definitely go back. Our bill wound up being around $50 for appetizers and one cocktail, so this is not the place to go if you're feeling frugal. Mister Tiki opens every night at 5:30 and closes late (whenever that may be).