I get an SMH moment at the very thought that we haven’t written about Trader Vic’s in the last five years! It’s been a place I’ve frequented with friends and family and at one time, I even celebrated my birthday there. I’m pretty sure most Riyadhizens know Trader Vic’s by now as one of the first big restaurants in Panorama Mall but in honor of putting them in our books (and for future reference) let me talk about Trader Vic’s today.
Trader Vic’s is a family restaurant and lounge that’s known for their polynesian-themed decor and cool, creative cocktails. When we first went to Trader Vic’s years ago, we were smitten with the ambiance’s combination of a chill island vibe and exclusivity. It was like feeling relaxed and private at the same time. I am a particular fan of the lounge area, where we usually dine. There’s a wide open space with wicker furniture and dim lighting that easily calms my mood down. The bar area is always bustling with bartenders preparing the drinks and you can watch them in action while waiting. I learned from one of their managers before that the concept of Trader Vic’s restaurants is really to be situated by the beach or coastline (as do most of their other branches around the world) since their forte is really their drinks, being the official home of the Mai Tai. Unfortunately, we don’t have a body of water here in Riyadh to put Trader Vic’s close by (and alcohol is also not allowed) so they settled for the next best thing.
Their menu is composed of a lot of seafood and a few meat dishes here and there but all of which lean towards an Asian/Indian flair. It has changed through the years but their drinks selection is pretty standard with I think almost a 100 types of drinks to choose from. Here’s what I had on my recent visit:
One thing you are sure to expect in Trader Vic’s is that their drinks will all come in a fun and exciting presentation. In the past, I have experienced drinking out of a huge goblet, a half-open barrel with three long straws and even a small coconut cup with the words Aloha! in front of it. I also quite fond of the green, tiki stirrers that go along with them. Drinks-wise, their game is on point, as it should be.
For the starters, we usually enjoy their Seafood salad but the last time I was there, I opted to try something new which was the Mozzarella and Tomato Salad while my mom had the Shrimp and Avocado Salad. We also ordered the Calamaris and their distinctive, Beef Cho Cho.
The calamaris wasn’t any good at all that I didn’t bother taking a photo of it anymore. In the many times we have ordered that, we have had some hits and misses so there’s a question of consistency there. As for the salads, I liked my tomato and mozzarella cheese salad enough to finish it all. My mom found the shrimp in her salad a little too salty but generally manageable. Fortunately, the Beef Cho Cho did not disappoint. For the uninitiated, the Beef Cho Cho is made of skewered pre-cooked beef that you could finish off on your own over a fancy blue flame that keeps you busy while talking with your fellow diners. It takes some time before you could eat this dish because of the cook-it-you-own part but if you’re not that hungry just yet, then you might enjoy that mini-barbecue on your table.
For the main course, here’s what we ordered:
We enjoyed the lamb cutlets a lot more than the mixed seafood platter. The meat was tender and the sauce complimented its smokey flavor very well. I never thought noodles would go great with lamb but I guess it worked out in come quirky way. The mixed seafood platter was huge! I think it’s good for at least two people. It had two large prawns, slices of hammour and salmon, three pieces of squid and a lobster tail. Generally, the dish came across as dry and I was looking for some sauce or some moisture. Also, I thought it was a bit over-seasoned so I wasn’t able to enjoy this dish properly. I did take home the left overs and made a seafood omelette out of it instead. It cost a lot so I didn’t want it to go to waste.
Speaking of costs, that’s where Trader Vic’s takes the cake. They are very pricey compared to other restaurants with the same level of menu (or even better). I personally think that what you pay for is the ambiance and not the food per se. Though if you are an employee of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, you can enjoy a 25% discount just by presenting your ID to the waiter as you ask for your bill. Other pros for Trader Vic’s is its proximity and accessibility, which can make you avoid the busy streets of Olaya or Tahlia just to get to a nice restaurant, although this depends on where you live, really. I live nearby this area so its location is a factor for me to decide on why I eat here too. They also have a private dining area available for 10-20 people in case you wanted to have an office luncheon or dinner there. It must be booked in advance though.
Granted that Trader Vic’s can’t capitalize on their cocktails here in Riyadh the same way that they can in other countries, I’d say they still have a huge potential to make their other dishes stand out more than their ambiance does. However, if a night of non-alcoholic drinks and cozy conversation is your deal, then you can surely put Trader Vic’s on the list.
Trader Vic’s also offers catering for large events, an affordable lunch menu and a Friday brunch buffet. Please call them for more information on those.
Panorama Mall (corner lot), Takhasussi St.
T: 011-281-4782; 011-481-8878