San Diego boasts a litany of fine restaurants, but only one offers gourmet Pacific Rim cuisine amid an exceptional panoramic view of the bay and downtown skyline: Bali Hai Restaurant. While this esteemed waterfront eatery has a rich local history, having delighted patrons for 55 years with its Tiki thematics, Bali Hai is undergoing a renaissance. Most notably, newly-named executive chef Ben Lieberman is infusing the menu with nouveau ideas and approaches to impress a new generation of fun-loving foodies.
Lieberman recently took the helm of this iconic Shelter Island-based restaurant where he spearheads a 30-member culinary team hell bent on delivering a distinctive dining experience. And that they do, which is no surprise given Lieberman’s lofty credentials. He was most recently the chef de cuisine of Searsucker in downtown San Diego and also oversaw the menu design of Burlap—the newest venture from Brian Malarkey of BRAVO TV Top Chef fame. Lieberman, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University’s prestigious College of Culinary Arts, also worked in Las Vegas at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant and at Spago at Caesar’s Palace as well as in Los Angeles where he served as executive sous chef for the celebrated Katsuya Japanese restaurant. From these experiences, Lieberman has honed a multicultural culinary approach that leverages the freshest regional ingredients.
In his short time at Bali Hai, Lieberman and has already flexed his creative muscle by introducing an array of seasonal menu items that are attracting local leisure diners, tourists, and large parties, alike. On a recent “girl’s night out,” I had the pleasure of sampling multiple dishes from the current iteration of the Bali Hai menu, which duly showcases this chef’s artistic vision and versatility.
From the starters menu, we opted for the Szechuan Venison Carpaccio ($12) with parmesan, fried capers, hard boiled egg and truffle-soy aioli; Southeast Asian Style Cured Salmon ($11) served with horseradish whipped cream, tomato-ginger jam, and arugula; and the Coconut Shrimp ($14) accompanied by ginger lime dipping sauce and a papaya salad. For the salad course, we shared the sweet and savory Caramelized Watermelon Salad ($7)—balsamic rum-topped watermelon cubes accompanied by pistachio powder, feta, watercress and marinated tomato.
For our entrees, "Kai" seafood reigned supreme. We indulged in the Tempura Salmon Roll ($20) with asparagus, salmon roe, wasabi aioli, pea shoots and citrus mustard; the Wok Fried Bass ($29)—14 full ounces of Corvina sea bass served with Ponzu and Szechuan style vegetables; and the Seared Diver Scallops ($27) accompanied by a glazed, perfectly rendered pork belly, sesame spinach, and ginger-soy butter. From the land "Aina" options, our choice was the 5 Spiced Duck Breast ($25)—moist and flavor-permeated duck confit with a plum-orange glace served with fresh cauliflower and snap peas. On the side, we shared the Thai Brussels Sprouts ($6), roasted and tossed with sliced Chinese sausage in a tantalizingly tart dressing.
Dessert rounded out the experience with a light traditional Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée ($7) with fresh seasonal berries as well as a very beautifully plated Cheesecake ($7) adorned with Amarena cherries and drizzled with a savory balsamic syrup.
Of course, not everything has changed as the restaurant’s “world famous” Mai Tai’s are still a crowd pleaser. In fact, Bali Hai proved to be a brilliant location for a lighthearted outing with gal pals as we sipped on various island classic and specialty cocktails, including the Goof Punch ($6.75)—a concoction of three different light and dark rums mixed with passion fruit syrup and a blend of fruit juices.
All of Bali Hai’s fine food and luscious libations are served up in a warm and exotic atmosphere sure to put you in a vacation state of mind…if you’re not already. With multiple banquet rooms overlooking unsurpassed bay and city views, the restaurant can also accommodate large groups for parties and events, including birthday parties, business meetings, and even weddings and receptions. Boaters can even reach the restaurant through its own private dock.
Whether you're looking for a romantic dinner, a fun outing with friends, or a distinctive location for an important event, Bali Hai restaurant’s forward-thinking, farm fresh Pacific Rim fare will keep you coming back for more.
"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.LuxeListReviews.com. Follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***