Hours: Dinner only. Monday through Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. Closed Sundays.
Atmosphere: Wonderful escape feeling.
Price Range: From $6.25 for chow mein or egg foo young to $14.25 for lobster flambe. Complete dinners are $10.25 to $12.50 per person.
Credit Cards: Most major.
Special Facilities: Large parking lot. Due to authentic-type designs, some areas may be difficult for wheelchairs, Highchairs and booster seats available.
It's a wonderful feeling to take a family to the South Seas -- a feeling unmatched by many experiences, especially when you wake up and realize you're still in Bethesda.
So authentic and so spiritually satisfying is the Kona Kai that you can feel the children have had a food diversion and a history lesson all in one.
Going to the Kona Kai is not a low-cost outing. There is so much to sample and everything is presented so beautifully that with food and exotic drinks, four people can easily spend $50.
Even from the outside, you are immediately made to feel part of a foreign experience. The entrance is decorated with totem poles, figureheads and special lighting.
Inside, there is a serene look to everything, from the softening effect of small light bulbs attached to the large plants to the bamboo furniture and total village look.
You pay for ceremony, style and preparation. There is a complete staff, including headwaiter, serving waiters and an overabundance of busboys. Each individual has seperate responsibilities and does not interfere with the other's domain.
Ironically, in a restaurant where the mood is soft and gentle, the food arrives too quickly and previous courses are literally flown away.
Most of the food is served with individual chafing dishes or small heated bowls. Appetizers are skillfully made into finger-sized portions so that even the worry of awkward food handling is removed from you, the diner.
We began with a round of exotic drinks for everyone. The children had tried the Buccaneer ($1.60), a non-alcoholic fruit punch, on the last outing, but we were overwhelmed with tartness. We fared better this time with soft drinks. Pineapple slices and a cherry are part of the garnishment.
From the large adult drink menu that is divided into small, medium, strong and large selections, we did not venture into Zombies or grogs, but went with recognized favorites of pina colada and a fizz.
Part of any Polynesian adventure as this is the actual presentation of food and drinks. Esthetics are important. All the beverages are beautifully served in unusual glasses with individual garnish, but drinks begin in the mid-$2 range and average around $3.
The second speciality is the category of appetizers. Portion sizes vary somewhat though not necessarily in relation to prices.
We sampled four appetizers. Each person is given a sauce tray with plain ketchup, sweet sauce and hot mustard.
All the appetizers arrive on separate plates with individual heating aparatus. The cho cho ($3.70) are thin pieces of lean steak placed on skewers and ready to be reheated. They have been delicately basted with a sweet brown sauce and are part of a reasonably sized order. Here the children can help cook.
On the other hand are the overpriced egg rolls ($3.25). Two egg rolls have been cut into bite-sized pieces. The taste is fine, for the fillings are fresh inside a delicate, crisp wrapper.
The fried wonton ($2.40) is again a small order. The oriental chicken ($2.40) consists of bite-sized pieces of chicken which have a light batter coating and seem more ample.
After finishing the appetizers, you are given a hot towel to wipe off any trace of grease that may have slipped out of the kitchen. This is fun for the children, who at first are overwhelmed with how hot the towel is and then pleasantly surprised at how soothing such an unaccustomed treat can be.
Ceremony continues, for hot towels are whisked out and soup enters. It arrives in a large bowl over a small fire so that in the time it takes to be served, it will not have a chance to catch at South Seas breeze.
The children enjoyed large bowls of won-ton soup ($1.85 each) brimming with meat-filled won-ton noodles and slivered, crisp slices of pea pods. All was lightly seasoned.
Our 5-year-old was now ready to sway with the music and drift off into Polynesian somnolence. A drink, appetizers and a big bowl of soup were sufficient enticements for her.
For dinner itself we ordered the waikiki duck ($7.75) and the pepper beef tahiti ($6.95). A cup of rice accompanies the entrees.
There are far-ranging menu choices with chickhen, pork, steaks, fresh fish and shellfish. There are even chicken and shrimp curries. Another possibility is to order the complete dinner for two, starting at $10.25 a person.
We have had the waikiki duck before and felt it was definitely worth reordering. A mandarin duck has been cut into bite-sized pieces after first having been pressed and boned. It has a light, delicate plum sauce coating and no semblance of a greasy taste or over-frying is evident. It is a fine tribute to freshness and skillful preparation.
The beef, thinly sliced and quickly stir-fried, was served with an ample portion of onion and pepper slices for a 9-year-old who is an onion and pepper fanatic.
Since ours was a special evening out, I had ordered the birthday creation. It was a Polynesian fruit bowl filled with papaya, mango, lechi, honeydew and pineapple pieces ($5). In the ice-filled center was a single birthday candle.
There also are several ice cream creations including a flaming selection with bananas, pineapple and apricot over vanilla ice cream. Cheesecake with strawberry sauce is another possibility.
To order at the Kona Kai, you have to exercise some selective control or you will overorder in price rather than in large portions.
Our total bill for drinks, appetizers, soups and two entrees was $47.10 with tax.
Unfortunately, as we climbed the bridge from our eating area, we were shaken into reality and discovered that our South Seas adventure was over.