Tiki Iniki Is Rockin’ In Princeville

Todd and Michele Rundgren living it up at Tiki Iniki | Daniel Lane photos

Todd and Michele Rundgren living it up at Tiki Iniki | Daniel Lane photos

Rock stars Todd and Michele Rundgren have been teasing us with the opening of Tiki Iniki for more than one year, and last Friday (Oct. 18) they quietly opened its doors. Located in Princeville Shopping Center, the tiki bar and restaurant promises a colorful atmosphere, handcrafted cocktails, artful and delicious food and a fanciful experience.

“It’s a playful place,” says Michele, who moved to Kauai with husband Todd in 1996. “When you see the outside, I want you to smile. When you open the door, I want your smile to get bigger. When you eat the food and drink the cocktails, it will complete a great experience.”

Michele Gray met Todd Rundgren when she was in a band called The Tubes. Todd, a vocalist and musician, produced one of the band’s records. The Tubes are best known for their 1983 song She’s a Beauty, which reached No. 1 on Billboard. Todd, who still tours, is best known for his songs Hello It’s Me, I Saw The Light and Bang The Drum All Day. I remember watching his music video Time Heals, which was the eighth video MTV played when it launched.

“We are very grateful to Todd’s fans, who are investors in Tiki Iniki,” says Michele, adding that he tastes everything before it goes on Tiki Iniki’s menu. “The first thing our bartenders made was Todd’s Martini, which is Grey Goose, very cold, with ice crystals and shaken.”

Thanks to Michele’s background in show business, Tiki Iniki looks like a Disney set. We’re there just four days before the restaurant opens, and my husband Dan counts 40 wood tiki sculptures. Two, donated by Dan Briggs, are from the 1940s Trader Vic’s in Honolulu. Eight hand-carved tiki bar stools with padded tops line the bar.

Bamboo Ben, a third-generation tiki builder, was hired to make Michele’s vision a reality. Buoy-inspired lights made from colored glass hang from the ceiling, which is draped with flame-retardant coconut fronds. Theatrical lights covered with red, blue and green gels are part of a $30,000 lighting system that changes colors throughout the night. A lava wall resembles what Michele saw on the Big Island, and chairs from the original Don the Beachcomber have been reupholstered.

Tiki collectables from the Rundgrens’ collection, as well as those donated by friends, fill every nook and cranny. Artifacts from Coco Palms include fake coconuts from the Pirates of the Caribbean set, a giant wood sculpture and a tear-shaped orange chandelier. An arched hut is shaped like the legendary resort’s entrance, and the deck is the same shape of the Coco Palms’ lobby.

Kona Kampachi with cucumber gel, chili-infused pineapple, charred cucumber and Tobiko Caviar, $14

Kona Kampachi with cucumber gel, chili-infused pineapple, charred cucumber and Tobiko Caviar, $14

“Todd had been going to Coco Palms since the ’70s, and I had since the ’80s,” recalls Michele. “We’d vacation there with our kids and it was magical for us. I wanted to re-create that feeling.”

Tiki Iniki is young, but strives to be a farm-to-table restaurant that first sources from Kauai farmers. So far, microgreens are from Shamma Farm and produce comes from the garden at the Rundgrens’ home, as well as the Waipa, Hanalei and Kilauea farmers markets. Grass-fed beef is from Kulana Farms in Hilo, and the fish is fresh and local.

In the dining room, chefs work behind a shiny stainless steel open kitchen with a Wood Stone gas-fired oven. Acclaimed chef Kazuto Matsusaka is launching Tiki Iniki with executive chef Chris Loberg. Matsusaka, a protégé of Wolfgang Puck, was instrumental in opening the Parisian hot spot Buddhabar. Loberg was sous chef at Morimoto and The Q Restaurant & Bar, both in Napa. Pastry chef Lulu Smith, formerly of the Blossoming Lotus, makes all the pizza dough and bread, as well as desserts.

“We offer fine dining, comfort food, pupus and a late-night menu with noodles and pizza,” says Michele, whose restaurant also offers gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. “We’ll be open until midnight, and I’m a huge football fan so we’ll open earlier during the season, and Spam hamburgers definitely will be on the menu!”

Julie Reiner, who was raised in Honolulu and is the force behind New York City’s most revered cocktail bars, created the cocktail menu. At Tiki Iniki, cocktails are made with fresh juice and Kold-Draft ice cubes, which are large, as clear as glass, and designed to melt slowly.

“Everyone who works at Tiki Iniki knows they are hosting a party,” says Michele, “and our guests should feel like they’re a guest at a party in my home. Wigs are encouraged and Hawaiian attire is appreciated!”

Tiki Iniki
Princeville Shopping Center
Reservations recommended

Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.