They’re known for boozy tropical cocktails and island-inspired bar bites, but with new Executive Chef Steve Kim at the helm, Tiki TNT’s food menu will be getting a boost as he brings his brand of coastal cuisine to the three-story bar on The Wharf.
Initially brought on by owner Todd Thrasher to help revamp the summer menu, Kim was asked to extend his tenure with Tiki TNT as the Executive Chef and plans to continue building off of the menu roots he put down over the past few months. Pulling from his background in fine-dining to equalize the scales from Tiki TNT’s “bar first” mentality, the new menu is a bridging of flavors and experiences: Kim’s Korean heritage and culinary arts training melds with the regional palettes from Thrasher’s island-hopping adventures.
“A lot of my influence comes after talking with Todd Thrasher about his journey as a scuba diving instructor and the things that he was able to see on the islands he was able to visit,” Kim says. “It’s just such a cool story. I wanted to focus on and bring those places he’s been to the menu.”
And that includes adding fresh fish options — something guests were asking more of, given the bar’s location steps from the Municipal Fish Market. Kim’s answer? Whole Fried Snapper. “It’s one of our top sellers right now,” he says of the dish that’s served with a house made duck sauce, cilantro rice and adobo broccoli with Hawaiian rolls on the side. A light and fresh Mango and Papaya Salad with roasted tomato, pickled peppers, mint, basil and peanuts also joins the lineup. Another new addition, Kim’s curry Crab Cakes are a spin on the Chesapeake region staple, incorporating flavors and seasonings of the Spice Routes.
For further menu inspiration, Kim reaches back to childhood cooking memories.
“I still remember making kimchi with my grandmother, my mother, my aunts,” he reminisces. “As a chef now I appreciate it so much more than I did when I was a kid.”
Kim now applies similar ingredients and cooking techniques at Tiki TNT.
“Those flavor profiles: the soy sauce, green chili flakes, so much garlic, a lot of ginger….that can be expressed in different Asian and Polynesian flavors,” he explains. “I’m able to use what I know there from growing up, and melding them into my cuisine, while still staying true to some items.”
He points towards his new Kalbi Rice Bowl as a prime example. Kalbi marinated steak joins with scallions, carrots, house made cucumber kimchi, spinach and sauteed carrots and garlic over sesame rice.
“That’s what I love and that’s what I know and I wanted to put one tried and true Korean item on the menu.”
And the blending of those familiar ingredients doesn’t end at Korean menu staples.
“I can meld the bouncing of garlic, ginger and soy to other regional cuisines,” Kim adds. “I have a jerk rotisserie chicken with those flavors: soy, garlic and ginger. I can build them from what I know from working in other restaurants with great chefs.”
Though, fans of Tiki TNT’s OG menu need not worry, mainstays will still be offered.
“We still have the classics of the restaurants,” Kim reassures. “It just screams fun bar food,” he says of the Tiki Tots, Spam Musubi, Poke Bowl and Coconut Shrimp labeled “untouchables” during the menu update.
“But after that [Todd] gave me free range to revamp and elevate it. So it’s not just a drink destination, but also a drink and food destination,” he adds.
If the past iteration of the menu could be described as island-inspired bar bites, Kim’s spin will be a level-ed up version. Subtle touches from his fine-dining background will elevate the plating and presentation, creating more of a dining and dinner destination at Tiki TNT versus a quick spot to grab bar grub.
“It’s just more emphasis on plating,” Kim says. “We’ll do pools of sauces now as opposed to using ramekins; it’s a lot more fun and a lot more enjoyable when you receive [the dishes].”
The tropical vibes will continue through the fall and winter months with the help of retractable covers that were added to the outdoor areas, better protecting patrons from the elements along with heaters to keep things warm and toasty through the colder seasons.
And although the menu will mostly stick to its island and tiki roots, there will be a few seasonal additions popping up here and there.
“I am making the push to do more winter-esque stuff,” Kim notes.
Expect foods that give off all the comfort feels, like steamy bao buns stuffed with pork belly or jerk chicken.
For another cold weather menu recommendation, Kim points to his new Pu Pu Platter with kalbi-marinated steak skewers set on cast iron molds within the wooden platters that emit flames.
“It’s really cool because when you receive it, it’s like this flaming little Tiki cast iron,” he says of the presentation.
Come holiday season, he’s thinking up a table-side s’mores version of the platter complete with all the requisite accoutrements.
No matter the season, guests can rest assured if they need to escape the DC winter, Hawaiian island vibes are just a hop, skip and a jump away at Tiki TNT.
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