Trader Vic’s is an old school West Coast chain, with restaurants still operating in several cities. But not Portland. Our local outpost was replaced by El Gaucho, and really expensive steaks took over the pupu platter. This review is from the 1990 Willamette Week Restaurant Guide.
Stepping in to Trader Vic’s is like walking onto the set of South Pacific – it’s classic Bali Hai, from the wall-to-wall bamboo and giant clam shell wall sconces ot the salt and pepper shakers shaped like miniature Easter Islanders. A Kon Tiki-like reed boat hangs from the ceiling, and the warbling strains of Gabby Paianui drift out of the sound system. Even if outside it’s Oregon gray and rainy, in Trader Vic’s there’s always a tropical sunset.
A before dinner cocktail – something with rum, natch – is almost obligatory. The drink menu looks extensive, but most of the offerings run to the sweet, fruity, and strong. Do yourself a favor and split one with your dining partners. Even the innocent-looking tiki puk puka, disguised with enough fruit juice to ward off scurvy, could knock the rum-soaked Billy Bones on his keister.
Much of the food, which could be loosely described as Chinese, is passable, if a bit on the traditional side. A few items stand out. Seafood comes to the table impeccably cooked, and the listing of game dishes could be Portland’s most extensive. A rack of vension, cooked in the open, wood-fired smoker-oven, includes three substantial chops, melt-in-your-mouth tender and topped with a subtle fruit mustard.