Our friends Cami and Jeff (who live down the street from us, which is just awesome) are huge tiki fans. They are also really creative with a good eye for decorating. I managed to paint my walls a non-white color; they’ve transformed their house into gorgeous scenes, including a tiki bar, collections of vintage tiki mugs, and various lamps that look like they belong, not like they were just strung up from the ceiling (which is how it would look if I tried to do such decorating). I’m pretty sure they introduced me to Bali Hai (and the infamous mai tais).
They love Bali Hai so much, they gave friends of ours a gift certificate… and then Bali Hai shut down for renovation. To be honest, the Bali Hai pretty much meant strong drinks and a gorgeous view to me. I’d eaten there a couple of times, but nothing on the menu really called out to me. And, if you know me, you know that if a place doesn’t have great food, I’m hard pressed to hang out there a lot. Then I heard that along with renovating the look of Bali Hai, there was also a new chef who would be turning out a revamped menu. That certainly got my attention.
So, when JWalcher Communications invited me to the grand opening party and mentioned there would be sample bites from the new menu, I was ready to go. I even finagled an invite for Cami and Jeff (who were equally excited, if not more so) and we all headed down on April 21st to see if the new Bali Hai lived up to all our expectations.
Bali Hai did an amazing job with the renovations. I’m no tiki expert, but the ones I was with were thoroughly impressed with the way the renovation design was handled. It looks bright and clean, but retains that old-school tiki charm without being cheesy, outdated, or too modern. They’ve added an outside patio to the second level (where the restaurant is) and built a beautiful pavilion outside. If you’ve been to Bali Hai previously, you might remember that funny room off to the right that didn’t seem to flow with the rest of the restaurant. That space has been opened up and serves as a bar/lounge area. So now, if you just want to go up and enjoy some drinks, you have a place to hang out! There’s a small private dining room that looks perfect for celebrating special occasions (or maybe even non-occasions with a large group!) and, of course, the gorgeous window views are all along the perimeter.
Admiring the views and wood craftsmanship is great, but we all know I was there for the food. You can check out the lunch or dinner menus here, or go to the website for the full range of food and bar menus.
Knowing I can’t handle Bali Hai-level cocktails on an empty stomach, I started with a pina colada and then walked the perimeter to ogle the food stations. When we walked in, there were food stations set up in the downstairs bar area, coolers of beverages outside, and then food stations set up around the bar upstairs. We started there (and I hear it was a little less jam-packed than the downstairs area). Our first bite was the Bali Hai take on loco moco. Loco moco is such a Hawaiian dish, you can go to McDonald’s and find it on the menu (something I have done more than once, along with ordering Spam, rice, and eggs). Bali Hai’s version is top sirloin steak with “oven dried mushrooms, green peppercorn demi glace, and sauce gribeche”. As an entrée, you’d get it with a side of rice. As a tasty bite, it was tasty, especially with the diced hard boiled eggs in the sauce gribeche (a nice touch, I think).
The next bite was a slice of seared ahi topped with a raisin compote, which somehow paired really well with the ahi. It’s not something I would have considered as a sauce, and if I had seen it on a menu I may have paused, but having tasted it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Somewhere around then we snagged a skewer of tomato and watermelon that was being passed around. It’s served as a salad, with pistachios, feta cheese, and a balsamic syrup. I love watermelon (I even love mediocre watermelon as long as it isn’t mushy) and this was sweet and refreshing and well-balanced by the feta and balsamic. I also ate it before even thinking of taking a picture. Sorry. But! I did get a picture of the ahi tartare that was being passed (actually, I made Travis chase the girl down and snag one for me… being “media” I have all sorts of crazy demands). It’s served on a cracker bread, with pine nuts, on top of a dollop of avocado (more like guacamole). I love avocados and I love ahi and had no objections to scarfing it all down. Yum. I wonder if it’s served in a bowl and you assemble it yourself, or if it comes already plated onto the crackers…
Then we moved onto the crispy spring rolls, which were hot but a tiny bit soggy on the bottom. They were good, but they were also kind of just spring rolls. Nothing really outstanding or new (that I could taste).
It started getting pretty crowded and loud upstairs, but we had a nice table by the window, so I sent Travis downstairs to see what he could find. There was a guy playing music in the upstairs lounge area, which contributed to the noise level, but I was mostly entertained when he said something along the lines that most of the folks in the room probably weren’t around in the 1970s (maybe he was going to play a song?) If you looked around (at least from where I was sitting), I’d be willing to bet that quite a few people were definitely “around” in the 70s. Then Travis came back and reported that there appeared to be calamari and coconut shrimp, but the trays were empty. He did bring back a little short rib dumpling, surrounded by herbs and fried cellophane noodles. The first one we ate wasn’t hot, but it was still good. Later that night we got a hot one and it was even better.
Somehow, we also missed the kahlua pork sliders (which I can’t find on any menu…) but the small taste I had off Cami’s plate was tender and flavorful. At this point, we decided to venture outside and downstairs and see the rest of the place. The new outdoor pavilion is a nice space and I’m betting there will be many events held there in the summer. Everyone else admired the look and the view; I discovered there was food inside and made a beeline for what looked like a grill. That was next to a buffet dish. That held pork loin in some sauce with bits of pineapple sprinkled around. Which is also not on the menu. This is a shame, because the pork was probably the best bite I ate all night (so tender and juicy!) I will have to do more investigating. While I was nibbling at the pork that is not on the menu, Darlene and Paul wandered in! And that was probably the extent of my “social media networking”.
After my pina colada and then a Midori+pineapple juice, I was pretty much done drinking. We explored the downstairs bar, confirmed that there were no calamari or coconut shrimp to be found, snagged a beef skewer (an appetizer on the lunch menu), and then went back upstairs because some boys wanted another drink. It took them a long time to get their drinks from the bar (it was really crowded), so Cami and I enjoyed sitting in the lounge area. Plenty of good people watching.
All in all, we were very pleased with Bali Hai. I can’t wait to go back for dinner and go through the menu, since it looks like any dish would make me happy. I’m glad they kept the “Chicken of the Gods” dish but don’t have the ubiquitous macadamia-crusted fish dish. I’m also happy to report that the mai tais and Navy Grogs are as boozy as ever!
Since we were in the area, we decided to also indulge at The Pearl with some bacon confit (So. Good.) and beers. We also had to watch the beginning of The Neverending Story, which really does seem to never end. And then I found out Alice Q did the same thing – chased her Bali Hai with some Pearl tastiness!
A huge Mahalo to Robert for the Bali Hai invitation. We had so much fun and can’t wait to go through the full menu!