FLAVOR REIGNS SUPREME AT A POPULAR MONMOUTH COUNTY DINING DESTINATION, WHERE THE TASTEFUL JOURNEY BEGINS WITH PERFECTLY CRAFTED LIBATIONS
BY GILDA ROGERS • PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC
I made 100 Mai Tais last night,” laughed mixologist Jackson Lin, who has mastered the drink that helped place Peking Pavilion on the culinary map. The buzzy Asian restaurant is famed for its gourmet Chinese cuisine, posh décor, ambiance, and international appeal. But any regular will tell you a meal here would not be complete without one of Lin’s signature Mai Tais.
The folklore behind the fruity rum drink from Trader Vic’s 1972 Bartender’s Guide tells of two of proprietor Vic Bergeron’s friends from Tahiti who were visiting him in California. After taste-testing the drink, they exclaimed “mai tai-roaffae,” which translates to “out of this world the best!”
At Peking Pavilion it’s called the Old Man’s Mai Tai. Word to the wise: this potent, uniquely flavored concoction is not made for guzzling. Sipping and savoring is the best approach. It’s the original recipe of founder Michael Kuo, who first opened Peking Pavilion in Richmond, Virginia, in 1973. He and his wife, Corrina, moved to New Jersey in 1983 and opened the restaurant in Manalapan two years later. During the ‘90s, another Peking Pavilion debuted in Red Bank, which closed after five years.
Longevity best describes the staff at Peking Pavilion. Like many bartenders, Lin started out as a server and worked his way up to mixologist. He has been with the restaurant for 15 years, but in comparison to many other staff members, Lin is the new kid on the block. He credits his longevity to the family environment, from the stat to the customers.
“I like to deal with people and become friends with our regular customers,” he said. “No matter whether they’re happy or sad, I like dealing with these situations.”
General manager Steven Peng, who immigrated with his parents from China in 1979, has been with the restaurant since it opened in 1985, and once managed both locations. “My parents came here for a better life,” said Peng.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lin, who is married and has two children, traveled back home to China, a special treat for the family.
“I went to China to see my parents, and it was the first time they saw their grandchildren in person,” said Lin, whose children, Matthew and Amber, are ages six and nine. “We were there for six weeks and got to see all the family and my older sister. I want my kids to know their culture.”
When not serving his customers sage advice and killer cocktails alongside starters like roasted barbecued pork and creamy rock shrimp with scallion pancakes, Lin enjoys watching sports, particularly basketball and football, professing his love for the New York Giants.
He’s also adept at another fan favorite at Peking Pavilion: the “Perfect” Lychee Martini, made with lychee fruit, which is native to China and resembles a strawberry. “It’s your basic martini, but with lychees,” Lin explained.
The ample menu of specialty cocktails includes tempting choices like the Canton Cosmo and X Rated Asia. Elevated edibles include crispy duck l’orange, Peking duck, Grand Marnier prawns, Mike’s rack of lamb, and Corrina’s critically acclaimed 24-oz. New York strip steak. These expertly plated dishes have garnered rave reviews from the New York Times, Zagat, and other prominent publications.
When his bartending days are over, Lin’s ultimate dream is to try his hand at becoming an auto mechanic. “I just like it,” he said. “I don’t even care about getting my hands dirty. When the kids grow up, I’ll be doing my own thing.” In the meantime, with thousands of Mai Tais under his belt, Lin is content serving his customers.
“I love making drinks, the food here, talking to people, and making friends,” he added.
110 Route 33, Manalapan / 732.308.9700 / pekingpavilion.com