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Kapow! explodes onto South Florida dining and cocktail scene

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Previous posts: Kapow! in Boca cooks up noodles, cocktails, edgy artwork
Take 5: Artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli

Review by Jim “Hurricane” Hayward

Like the restaurant’s colorful logo inspired by Japanese animation, everything about the new Boca Raton hotspot Kapow! leaps out and grabs your attention. Creativity is running amok at Kapow! in the cocktails and, especially, the food.


It starts with the cutting-edge concept and design of the warm yet elegantly cool space in the trendy Mizner Park dining and shopping district near downtown Boca. This is to be expected considering the ownership dream team of restaurant/nightlife moguls Rodney Mayo and Scott Frielich (The Dubliner, Tryst, Dada, Howley’s, Longboards, et al.) plus eco-conscious trendsetter Vaughan Lazar (Pizza Fusion).

But a cool concept is nothing without execution in the kitchen and behind the bar. Kapow! delivers on both counts, thanks in no small part to the fourth member of the ownership team, executive chef Roy Villacrusis – reigning two-time champion of the Grand Chef Throwdown at the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival.

Pooch poses with his handiwork at Kapow!
Pooch poses with his handiwork at Kapow!

Kapow! noodle bar launched with a VIP tasting on Nov. 22 and a public opening the following day. The menu features a blend of unique “Asiatic” cuisine with a French Vietnamese flair, leaning heavily on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Add to this an eclectic selection of hand-crafted cocktails, and it’s a recipe for an exotic dining experience right up The Atomic Grog’s alley.

My wife and I finally got a chance to visit last Sunday, joined by artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli and “Mrs. Pooch.” The dominant feature of the intimate 1,600-square-foot room is the 9-by-28-foot mural made from a Pooch painting that hangs in the back of the restaurant. The Pucciarellis had attended the VIP tasting, but this was their first visit for a sit-down dinner.

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Minimalist Tiki

Take 5: Mai-Kai General Manager Kern Mattei

Related: A backstage tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen
Mai-Kai cocktail guide | All Mai-Kai posts | Take 5 interviews

Kern Mattei in his office at The Mai-Kai, July 2011. (Photo by Susan Hayward)
Kern Mattei in his office at The Mai-Kai, July 2011. (Photo by Susan Hayward)

This is the second in The Atomic Grog’s series of short interviews with noted personalities involved in events, music, art, cocktails and Tiki/retro culture.

Kern Mattei was destined to be general manager of The Mai-Kai. His father, Kern Sr., held the same position at the legendary Polynesian palace from 1964 to 1991. His mother was a Mai-Kai dancer, and he literally grew up in the restaurant. He was born in 1966, 10 years after it opened, and now works in the same office that his father did.

He worked a variety of jobs at The Mai-Kai while in school, then began as a manager in 1993 after earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality from Florida International University. Kern lives in Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Elke, and two children: Cheyne and Nicholas. I conducted this interview with the always dapper Kern on July 30.

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Kapow! in Boca cooks up noodles, cocktails, edgy artwork

Review: Kapow! explodes onto South Florida dining and cocktail scene
Related: Take 5: Artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli

Boca Raton’s trendy Mizner Park may never be the same. Restaurant/nightclub impresarios Rodney Mayo and Scott Frielich have joined forces with Pizza Fusion founder Vaughan Lazar for a fresh concept that combines tasty Asian street food with hand-crafted drinks and a social conscience.

Mayo and Frielich are known for such cutting-edge eateries as Dada, Tryst, The Dubliner, Howley’s, and Longboards. Lazar pioneered the concept of organic and eco-conscious pizza with Pizza Fusion.

Kapow! is inspired by New York City noodle bars featuring communal Asian comfort food with a gastro-style influence.
The menu will feature “fresh and sustainable” pan-Asian noodles and dim sum items plus craft cocktails in a edgy atmosphere. Much of that edge has been provided by South Florida artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, who painted an incredible mural that spans one entire wall.

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Party like a Zombie this month at The Mai-Kai

More info: | Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | See all our Mai-Kai posts

Forget New Year’s Eve. For many, the Halloween season is the biggest party time of the year. And the upcoming event calendar at the usually mellow Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale is a prime example.

This mid-century Tiki temple has been known in the past for barely acknowledging holidays. This is a good thing. It’s the perfect place to get away from the annoying mob scene at other establishments during rowdy holidays. But Halloween is quickly turing into The Mai-Kai’s best time of year to let loose, next to The Hukilau of course.

This month’s festivities feature three major parties in the classic Polynesian restaurant’s Molokai lounge, where you’ll still feel like you’ve been taken away to an island paradise despite the surrounding creepy costumes. Just sip a few Zombies, and you’ll be fine.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Origins of the Malayan Mist no longer a mystery

Updated April 10, 2012
See below: Our Malayan Mist review | Ancestor recipe | Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Malayan Mist is sometimes lost amid the many selections on the vast menu of nearly 50 tropical drinks at Tiki’s crown jewel, The Mai-Kai. It may be one of the most notable, however, with origins that date back to the very beginnings of the modern Tiki bar.

1959 Mai-Kai menu
A 1959 Mai-Kai menu.

For a tropical drink that’s been around for at least 55 years, there is precious little information to be found about the mysterious Malayan Mist. Fittingly, it also features a unique sweet flavor profile that’s just as esoteric. Like many of The Mai-Kai’s drinks that have survived a half century of menu updates, the classic artwork remains unchanged (see 1959 menu at right).

That artwork helped us solve the mystery. More than half of the drinks at The Mai-Kai are retooled versions of classic Don the Beachcomber cocktails. Mixologist Mariano Licudine worked for Donn Beach in Los Angeles and Chicago before he was hired away by Mai-Kai owners Bob and Jack Thornton, brothers from Chicago who sought to create the ultimate Polynesian palace in what was then a desolate area west of Fort Lauderdale.

Along with Licudine, they snagged the restaurant’s top chef plus manager Robert Van Dorpe, who provided them with invaluable information. This included the sources for all the glassware and artwork to go with the secret ingredients to make those world famous cocktails. Click here for more on the story of the Don the Beachcomber connection to The Mai-Kai as unearthed by historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

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The Jetsetter touches down tonight at The Mai-Kai

Join Mike “Jetsetter” Jones tonight for what’s quickly becoming the coolest event on The Mai-Kai‘s calendar: His semi-regular DJ set following the usual Friday night happy hour.

As an added bonus and in keeping with the Jetset theme, Jet Pilots are half-price all night long. See the flier below for all the details.

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Pooch brings his surreal world to Howley’s with solo art show

One of our favorite lowbrow artists, Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, will be hosting a showing of his recent prints next Tuesday (July 26) at one of our favorite retro restaurants – Howley’s diner in West Palm Beach.

View the Pooch

The show, titled “View the Pooch,” will run from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will also feature live music from South Florida blues guitarist J.P. Soars. Howley’s has a full bar featuring beer, wine and cocktails plus an extensive menu of diner classics.

Pooch is well-established as one of the most talented artists in South Florida and continues to branch out and establish himself throughout the greater art world. As owner/operator and chief artist at Altered State Tattoo in Lake Worth since 1996, he’s long been the go-to guy in South Florida if you’re looking for one-of-a-kind, eye-popping ink. Pooch’s award-winning tattoo work is known for its rich color and incredible detail. His work has been featured in many tattoo publications, such as Tattoo Society and International Tattoo Art.

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Clematis Street rides a new wave with the opening of Longboards

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Related: Surf’s up: The story behind Longboards

Longboards was hopping during its grand opening party.
Longboards was hopping during its grand opening party.

Even on-and-off rains throughout the night couldn’t douse the good vibrations permeating the 500 block of Clematis Street on Saturday night during the grand opening party for the surf-themed Longboards restaurant and raw bar.

Longboards was packed to the gills all night as the free food and drinks flowed from this cool raw bar and restaurant that took over the dormant space formerly occupied by Ray’s Downtown. The surf theme was carried through with great effect, from the dozens of surfboards gracing the walls and ceilings, to the surf videos on TVs and a big screen, to the “beach” area on the back patio shared with the neighboring Lounge (we can’t wait to see what’s to become of the “VIP” trailer).

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Surf’s up in downtown West Palm Beach with the arrival of Longboards

Related: See photos from the grand opening party

Longboards grand opening party

The 500 block of Clematis Street gets a long-awaited injection of that good old Rodney Mayo magic this weekend with the grand opening of the South Florida nightlife mogul’s newest venture, the surf-themed restaurant and bar Longboards.

As owner or part owner of 13 other establishments from West Palm Beach to South Beach, he knows a thing or two about the hospitality industry. But rather than open cookie-cutter, tourist-friendly nightspots, Mayo has a creative flair for the funky and offbeat. And a clever eye for retro cool.

Perhaps we’re just getting tired of smoky bars and dance clubs, but we find his restaurant ventures (Dada and Tryst in Delray Beach, Howley’s in West Palm Beach) the coolest in his portfolio.

A view from the front door at the center bar and interior of Longboards
A view from the front door at the center bar and interior of Longboards (photo by Hurricane Hayward).

It looks like we may want to add Longboards to the list. We stopped by for a sneak peak last night and were blown away by the transformation that has taken place in the space formerly occupied by Ray’s Downtown at 519 Clematis St. Next door to The Lounge and across the street from Respectable Street (two other Mayo properties), Longboards is poised to become a welcome addition to the western reaches of the downtown strip. It’s a full-blown restaurant and bar with great theming, modern yet retro at the same time.

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We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai

Zombie Jamboree

Related links
* See our photos from the event | Our event preview | More on Rum Renaissance
* Our recipe (with photos) for the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry teaches a graduate course on the Zombie
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry teaches a graduate course on the Zombie.

There was enough revelry and hard-core mixology on display this past Monday to wake the long-dead Tiki spirits at the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

The occasion was a collision course of Tiki culture and rum appreciation known as the Zombie Jamboree, the kickoff party for the seven-day Miami Rum Renaissance Festival.

The evening consisted of three components. First, Tiki drink expert and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s seminar on the history of the Zombie cocktail, then the best contemporary mixologists competing in the “Zombie Jam,” followed by The Mai-Kai’s show and dinner.

When I first heard about this event, I had to pinch myself. Had I died and gone to Tiki heaven? My favorite Mai-Kai drink was being celebrated with a seminar by my mixology guru and a contest that was just beckoning for me to enter. So enter I did.

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