Tag Archives: Bali Hai

Bali Hai’s revamped dinner menu

Singapore Sling and some pretty orchids

If you are one of those people who stayed away from Bali Hai because of the food, now is the time for you to go back. I’ll admit to thinking that way – I could count on one hand the times I ate at Bali Hai (including a Sunday brunch with my parents) because I didn’t enjoy the menu options and I didn’t really like the food. It was kind of like you were paying for the pretty view and tiki atmosphere. Which is great, if that’s the reason you were at Bali Hai, but not great if you expected to enjoy your meal, too (sorry, but it was true).

The grand opening/media party was a lot of fun and gave us a glimpse into the new menu Chris Powell created, but it really only touched the surface. So, when JWalcher Communications invited us to enjoy dinner at Bali Hai, I jumped at the opportunity. I was really excited to see a bunch of seafood dishes that would (hopefully) showcase the fish instead of just breading and frying the suckers. We headed over on Thursday and prepared to take a good look at this revamped menu.

We got there earlier than our reservation was set, but I think it turned out for the best because we had enough light for me to take some pictures (with the iPhone, sorry for the quality). Travis had a Singapore Sling (I’d say it was bright and zesty… not too syrupy and actually kind of balanced on the booze). I stuck with an iced tea. We ordered appetizers and a basket of bread was brought out. Nice, slightly warm, soft sourdough bread. The butter is salted, so if you’re used to unsalted butter, take note. We really enjoyed the bread and when we found out it comes from the Point Loma Bread & Cie, we knew why. It’s also the same soft, tasty bread that envelopes the sandwiches at Point Loma Seafoods. Good stuff, I’m telling you.

calamari and soup in the background

I was really sad the calamari ran out at the media party, so I knew I wanted to order it as an appetizer. Li hing mui is that sweet-tart seasoning you find on everything from gummi bears to Chex mix to dried fruit in Hawaii. I wasn’t sure how it would be incorporated into a calamari dish and I really wanted to find out. You get a plate of rings, decorated with sliced radish (two kinds!) and julienned carrot strips, all sitting over a drizzle of a tart citrus sauce. The calamari are tender and the li hing mui is pretty subtle. If you’re familiar with it, you’ll taste it in the breading. If not, you probably won’t really notice it overall. I loved it and would definitely order it again. One of the popular appetizers is the pho dumplings, which are good, but we also got a good taste of them earlier. Travis ordered the soup do jour, which was crab bisque. A mound of crab, corn, and herbs is then surrounded by one of the lightest (but flavorful) bisques I’ve ever tasted. Definitely no krab here!

miso sake black cod "lau lau"

Good miso sake cod is hard to find (actually, Nobu makes a tasty version, but then you have to go to Nobu and I don’t really want to) so when I saw it on the menu, I wanted to try it. Bali Hai says it’s a “lau lau”, but it kind of isn’t. To me, lau lau is surrounded by spinach or some leafy green that gets in the way of the tasty bits. But, the Bali Hai lau lau places a piece of black cod over Portuguese sausage, drizzled with an orange sauce (is that the kabocha?) and a sprinkle of lomi lomi salmon. I found the miso sake part to be pretty light and kind of covered by the sauce, but what makes the dish is how perfectly the fish is cooked. Travis said it was like a marshmallow in his mouth – light and fluffy and delicious. It’s just flake and light and perfect. It’s how fish should always be served (why do so many places find this hard to do?) The halibut is one of the most popular entrees, I’m told, and if it’s anywhere near as good as the black cod, that will be my next order.

duck, duck, good

For some reason, Travis ordered the duck. I can’t remember him ever ordering duck, but I know he does like it. As much as I enjoyed my dish, the duck was absolutely delicious. It’s served over this onion-y gravy with pearl onions, english peas, cherry tomatoes, and baby carrots. The duck was so tender, it practically melted in your mouth. Travis really enjoyed the gravy and onions, not so much the tomatoes. I loved the whole dish. It may sound strange to order duck at the Bali Hai, but it turned out to be a really good choice. Yum.

vanilla poached pineapple, rum soaked baba, coconut sorbet

Then we got to the dessert menu, and I had a really hard time choosing. I basically want to try everything on the dessert menu (but, I also have a heck of a sweet tooth). We ended up with the pineapple, rum baba, and coconut sorbet and the banana springrolls. The banana springrolls are another best-seller, but Travis was swayed by the white chocolate and pretzels in the description. Of the rum baba dish, the sorbet was our favorite. It was like pure coconut in a creamy, smooth sorbet. I could have eaten a whole dish of that. The rum soaked baba was a little too sweet for us, but the pineapple was delicious.

banana springrolls, white chocolate, and crushed yum

Now, the springrolls… three springrolls deep-fried, then dipped in white chocolate and crushed pretzels. With a smear of caramel on the plate. The springrolls were still warm, still crispy, yet the chocolate wasn’t running off the end. I guess you could use a fork and knife, but I just picked one up and went for it. Melty chocolate, salty pretzels, crispy shell, and sweet bananas? I don’t know how you could go wrong with that. It’s actually making me hungry just thinking about it. If you end up ordering just one dessert, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with these. Next on my list is the chocolate lava cake (because I like to see how different places do it) and the sundae.

Entrée prices average about $20 (some are a little less, some are a little more). You’re not going to get an overloaded plate of food, but you will get enough to make you full. If you think prices are a bit too high for you, think of it this way. Too often you end up paying for the lovely view (and it is such a lovely view of the water at Bali Hai) and dealing with mediocre food. Now, you may pay a little bit more for the view but you get to really enjoy some great food. Or, you’re paying for great food and getting an awesome view to go with it!

Both Susie and Larry Bauman stopped by to say hello and see if we were enjoying everything, which I thought was very nice of them!

As we were finishing up our desserts, Cami and Jeff walked in. What are the chances? Cami said her duck was kind of too salty and that the crackers with the ahi tartare were stale, but the lau lau was good (I know! We ordered the same entrees!) I remember the crackers being stale at the media party, but I attributed it to just being out for a while on platters. If they’re always going to be stale, then that’s something to address. I didn’t think Travis’ duck was salty at all… so I guess proceed with caution. All I know for sure is that the new menu is world’s away from the old one. That, and they’ve been crazy busy since the grand opening.

Bali Hai on Urbanspoon

Bali Hai – grand opening party

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).

"loco moco"

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.

seared ahi

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…

ahi tartare

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).

crispy rolls

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.

"pho" shortrib dumpling

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”.

tasty pork

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!

Travis and a boozy me

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!

Bali Hai on Urbanspoon