If you enjoy hanging out around Times Square, then you should go to The Polynesian as soon as possible. You can skip the rest of this review, and use the extra time to polish your collection of miniature Statue Of Liberty replicas. If, on the other hand, you tend to avoid the video billboards of Old Navy’s new streetwear collection and the tourists in open-topped busses taking pictures of you like you’re an exotic animal on a safari, we still think you should go to The Polynesian. You just need all the details first.
The Polynesian is a tiki-themed cocktail bar from the people behind Carbone and The Grill. It’s located on the third floor of the Pod Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, and includes four separate indoor areas and a huge outdoor terrace, all of which look like places Jack Sparrow would hang out if he stopped the pirate shenanigans and made a fortune in the shipping industry. Like the other spots from this restaurant group, The Polynesian is both flashy and really enjoyable. And it’s one of our favorite spots for drinks and a light bite in Midtown.
This place is primarily a cocktail bar, and while the drinks are expensive - ranging from $17 to $85 for a large format one that serves six people - they’re worth it. They have unusual ingredients like chipotle honey and ube extract, they come in mugs shaped like skulls and treasure chests that you’ll want to smuggle out in your purse, and they’re delicious, which makes it easy to forget that they also have a lot of alcohol in them. On one of our visits, a woman seated near us in the dining room seemed to overlook that fact, at least until she noticed that the flame on top of the drink had set her hair on fire. To her credit (or perhaps as a testament to the effects of absinthe and rum in the same glass), she took it very well and proceeded to finish the three-tiered tower of small plates on her table.
On paper, the bar snacks at The Polynesian look similar to dishes you’d get at a Murray Hill rooftop while sharing a couch with the former social chairs of Pi Kappa Alpha’s Georgetown chapter, but the food here is definitely worth snacking on while you drink. The crab rangoon has a thin, flaky shell with filling that’s mostly crab, and the ahi tuna poke is served over seaweed salad that tastes so briny you’ll have flashbacks to swimming face-first into ocean kelp and temporarily freaking out because, you know, the ocean is scary. But the thing that this place does best is actually fries. The crunchy, crinkle-cut fries here are topped with various spices and served with hoisin ketchup, and they belong in any debate about the best fries in the city.
The largest option on the 10-item food menu is a $19 plate of four baby back ribs, so this isn’t the place to have a full dinner. It is a fun rooftop bar to use for snacks and great cocktails when you’re in a part of the city that can make even proud Manhattanites daydream of a brownstone in Park Slope. Get a booth inside and listen to the soundtrack of Supertramp, Pharrell, and Prince with a few coworkers who want a post-work drink stronger than sauvignon blanc, or order something on fire at the outdoor bar when you want to turn things up many notches after date night in the Theater District. Just be sure to mind your hair around the flames.
These are some of the best fries in New York. They’re perfectly crunchy without being burnt, and since they’re crinkle-cut, they have little pockets that hold in all the spices sprinkled on top. You can happily eat them plain, but you can even more happily eat them with a side of hoisin ketchup.
We like this mound of crunchy cucumbers topped with sweet and spicy sauce, but know that it’s the lightest option on the menu. So it works if you just want something to hold you over until dinner, but it’s not going to do much to balance out the fishbowl of rum and absinthe on your table.
Ahi Tuna Poke
This is one of the best things on the menu. The fairly large portion of super tender ahi tuna is covered in sauce that’s not too salty or sweet, and served over a seaweed salad that tastes like it was plucked from the water while you were taking videos on the outdoor terrace.
People should be eating more things on sticks, and these chicken skewers are a good place to start. The meat is tender, spicy, and charred in parts, and it’s served with a very good coriander cream dipping sauce.
This version of crab rangoon isn’t an over-fried puff pastry filled with cold cream cheese. It’s a thin, flaky shell that reminds us of phyllo, with a filling that tastes like it has more crab than cheese, and it’s served over a miso-mustard Thai chili sauce. Although we do like this dish, $18 seems steep for just four pieces.
Unlike most sliders, these aren’t all bun, but you still don’t need to order them. They’re pretty bland, with the only real flavor coming from the mushrooms on top of the meatball-sized patties.
Baby Back Ribs
At $19, this is the largest and most expensive item on the menu. It comes with four ribs that are sticky, sweet, and fatty, and they work as a late-night option (the kitchen stays open until 1am every day) when you realize that all you’ve consumed for the past three hours is alcohol and tropical juices.