Friday, July 27, 2012

Tiki Time on Shelter Island: Coming Home to Bali Hai

San Francisco -- OpenTable announced the 2012 Diners' Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Scenic View Restaurants in the United States.  The poll honored five San Diego dining favorites including The Marine Room, Bali Hai Restaurant, Bertand at Mister A's, Il Fornaio – Coronado, and Island Prime. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 15,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The winners span 29 states with California handily outpacing the pack with 37 honorees (see the complete press release and winners at Wine & Dine San Diego)

A few weeks ago, we just happened to cut out of work early on a Friday to try Bali Hai for lunch. We eagerly returned this afternoon to graze through the Pau Hana – Happy Hour menu, with a particular craving for the Hawaiian Tuna Poke Stack ($15 regularly, $10 during Happy Hour). We also loved the Mango Chili Calamari ($9) and Char Siu Pork & Pineapple Tamales. Our full review is published on Wine & Dine San Diego, but I also wanted to share it with you here.

Bali Hai: Tiki Time on Shelter Island
Coming Home to Bali Hai
Story and photos by Denise E. Jones, Wine & Dine San Diego Reporter

Bali Ha'i may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you'll hear it call you:
"Come away...Come away."
Bali Ha'i will whisper
In the wind of the sea:
"Here am I, your special island!
Come to me, come to me!"

SAN DIEGO - In 1955, legendary restaurateur Tom Ham named his new showplace after the song popularized by the musical South Pacific. The Bali Hai was Shelter Island's first "tiki temple," and in its wake, the restaurant drew more tiki temples to Shelter Island, including the Half Moon Inn, Shelter Island Inn and Kona Inn. With its colorful history, authentic artifacts, sweeping bay and city views, freshly restyled restaurant and lounge and new executive chef, Bali Hai is calling you to experience sun-kissed summer menus offering distinctively vibrant fusion cuisine.

We recently enjoyed a leisurely Friday lunch in the bright, airy upstairs dining room, at a table nestled against the floor-to-ceiling windows. Guests also can choose seating on the newly constructed, 500-square-foot redwood deck to take full advantage of warm sunshine, bay breezes, cruising pelicans and diving terns. Renowned architect Graham Downes exceeded expectations in enhancing and embellishing Bali Hai's allure, including restoration of the famous original tikis – The Goof on the Roof, with its vibrant King Kamehameha colors, and Mr. Bali Hai, who welcomes guests at the front entrance.

Bali Hai has been family-operated for more than five decades, and owners Larry and Susie Baumann or one of their three sons may be on hand to welcome you. Larry was present that day, catering to both a wedding party and a celebration of a new Marine's graduation from boot camp. Larry provides complimentary lunches to MCRD graduates and donates to the Wounded Warriors Foundation. The Bali Hai always has been a popular venue for weddings, graduations, birthdays and other events given in its private dining rooms, outdoor spaces and gardens, but lunch convinced me that the "new" Bali Hai now offers outstanding cuisine, too.

The restaurant recently took home a Gold Medallion Award for Best Pacific Rim cuisine awarded by the San Diego County Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.

A late lunch demands a cocktail, and several are designed to ensure smooth sailing into the weekend. The ever-popular and mighty Mai Tai, a tantalizing combination of light and dark rums and triple sec, packs a tropical punch that you won't forget. Lighter options like the Acai Cosmopolitan may be smarter for those wearing heels or driving.

The lunch menu showcases inventive pupus, signature salads, sandwiches and house specials. Refreshing takes on old favorites include the Hawaiian tuna poke stack ($15), the Island sashimi salad ($18) and rock shrimp tacos ($13). We were very impressed by the delectable flavors and beautiful presentations. Neither of us could stop poking the poke stack with chopsticks; the dish generously layered sushi rice, creamy avocado, crunchy tobiko caviar and flavorful poke, garnished with julienned nori and a scattering of fried won ton strips. Good news: at happy hour, the poke stack costs $10. Gather up a group of friends, grab a table near the monumental bar, and cruise through the Pau Hana (a Hawaiian phrase meaning "after work") menu of such small plates as coconut shrimp, mango-chile calamari, char siu pork and pineapple tamales, wasabi fries and more ($4 - $10).

Island Sashimi Salad

Rock Shrimp Tacos

Poke Stack (photo courtesy of Bali Hai)

 During lunch, we also feasted on a salad of Asian cured salmon and beets ($12) complemented by peppery arugula, pickled fennel and surprisingly tasty tofu, all tossed in a Thai balsamic vinaigrette.

Salmon and Beet Salad

The market-priced catch of the day, beautiful pan-seared local halibut topped with crab and pea shoots, was surrounded by tidal pools of coconut-corn puree, red pepper emulsion and basil seeds.

Catch of the Day - Local Halibut

Unwilling to leave our special island too soon, we shared the caramel rum-roasted pineapple, deliciously sweet and sticky, lovingly paired with moist cinnamon crumb cake, a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a clever garnish of candied basil.

Caramel Rum-Roasted Pineapple

 Having read the dinner menu, we're eager to return for alluring options like seared diver scallops ($28) with glazed pork belly and sour kiwi sauce; miso-marinated black cod ($26) with furikake rice cake, tempura'd long beans and pickled shiitake mushrooms, and five-spiced duck breast ($25) with cauliflower puree, snap peas, duck confit and plum-orange glace.

Five-Spiced Duck Breast (photo courtesy of Bali Hai)

 Chef Ben Lieberman graciously stopped by the table and beamed with a passion and enthusiasm as bright as his smile. He discussed visiting farms on his way to work and how he developed a healthier style of cooking, which he uses in all the dishes he has created for Bali Hai.

Chef Ben Lieberman (photo courtesy of Bali Hai)

 The Bali Hai Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, and brunch and dinner on Sunday. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended.

Bali Hai Restaurant
2230 Shelter Island Drive
San Diego, CA 92106
(619) 222 – 1181

Bali Hai (photo courtesy of Bali Hai)

Monumental Tiki Bar (photo courtesy of Bali Hai)

No comments: