Bali Hai

>> Thursday, February 2, 2012

Date of Dining: 12/28/2011
Price: $9-13 per appetizer, $17-29 per entree
Location: 2230 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego, CA 92106

The Quick Bit:
+ Good food with a great view of the San Diego Skyline
+ Aggressive flavors and seasonings 
+ Really fresh and high quality seafood
Δ Freshness of the ingredients could be allowed to show in more dishes
Δ Balance of cooked vs raw dishes could be more even

Two of the biggest stereotypes of tourists to San Diego are that they can get some great seafood and they will be able to dine in restaurants with great oceanfront views. Usually, it is possible to find a place that fulfills one of these stereotypes while falling short of the other (unless you spend a fortune). Bobby over at Gourmand's Review recommended that I check out Bali Hai as it seemed to be a place where good food and a good view could be found without breaking the bank.
Bali Hai traces its root back to 1953 where it was founded as a Tiki Hut and carried the Hawaiian theme through the years. Bali Hai even featured a Polynesian floor show in the past; sadly the show is no more, but many of the motifs still carry through today.
Bali Hai is headed by Chef Chris Powell whose philosophy on food is to serve fresh, flavorful, and beautiful food. Chef Powell has previously worked at Roy's in La Jolla before moving to Relais and Chateaux in Rancho Valencia and finally landing at Bali Hai.
One last note before the food - Bali Hai is famous for its super strong Mai Tai drinks, which do not contain any fruit juice.

First Course A:
hawaiian ahi poke - avocado, tobiko, nori crackers, taro chips
This dish was a great way to start off the meal. The ahi was at peak freshness and full of flavor. The nori and tobiko added a strong umami component which gave the poke an extremely luxurious mouth feel. While I tried to use the taro chips with the ahi, the poke really stood out on its own independent of the other elements. While there was no issue with the flavor of the avocado, the plating gave it a "processed" feel; a more natural looking avocado perhaps would have been more visually appealing.

First Course B:
bourbon vanilla cured salmon - green apple, peanut, maple syrup
Once again, this showed off the freshness of the salmon. The green apples added a bit of sour contrast to control the oil of the salmon while the peanuts offered a textural contrast. The maple syrup was only lightly present and added a nice surprise flavor to the salmon.

First Course C:
plank smoked albacore - garlic chile oil, pickled mustard seed, calamari boncy
While I enjoyed the poke, I felt the albacore was the strongest dish of the first set. This dish really highlighted Chef Powell's style as the mustard seeds and smoky flavor of the albacore were aggressive flavors. These were shifted to an even higher gear by the light chili oil, but also reigned in by the inclusion of the arugula. Overall it was a very exciting dish in flavor that once again showed off the freshness of the albacore.

Second Course A:
caramelized watermelon salad - pistachio powder, feta, watercress, marinated tomato, balsamic rum
I was a bit wary of the dish at first because watermelon season ended six months prior. However, this dish was executed very well. The inclusion of the balsamic rum gelatin spheres really worked for me. Each watermelon prism was seasoned well and balanced in flavor.

Second Course B:
tempura goat cheese salad - roasted beets, tomato, candied walnuts, walnut sherry vinaigrette
I really enjoyed this dish except that I thought the plating of the goat cheese could have possibly been improved. The large goat cheese sphere was somewhat difficult to deal with when eating the salad. Fortunately, the flavor combinations all worked out well together. The tomato was actually a highlight for me as many of the elements on the plate were sweet, which allowed the tartness of the tomato to shine out in contrast.

Third Course A:
kobe beef tataki - kimchee orange confit, matsutake broth, vietnamese herbs, rice crackers
I thought this dish was the best dish of the night. The lightly cooked kobe beef was the perfect preparation for allowing the fattiness of the kobe to shine through. While I thought the kimchee had a nice spicy kick, it did seem to mask the more delicate flavors of the kobe and matsutake broth. However, the kobe in combination with the matsutake and herbs really allowed the flavor of the beef to shine. Due to the fat content, each bite of the beef was a luxuriously flavorful explosion of savory umami and minty freshness.

Third Course B:
dynamite steak roll - grilled steak, onion, dynamite sauce
The steak was cooked well and the dish was packed full of flavor. However, I felt the dish did not really reflect Chef Powell's other stylistic elements.

Fourth Course A:
bay scallop risotto - stone crab, sea beans, horseradish, egg yolk
The risotto was very creamy and well prepared. The inclusion of the horseradish foam was a nice touch to bring contrast to the dish and highlight technique without overwhelming the delicate balance of flavor between the bay scallops and the rice. The sea beans provided some bean flavor and texture to the dish.

Fourth Course B:
miso glazed saba - crunchy rice and kimchee
This dish was a special of the evening and featured a miso-glazed saba. The kimchee in this dish provided a real kick to the palate to contrast the saba.

Fourth Course C:
char siu glazed duck - cauliflower, snap peas, lup cheong sausage
The flavor combinations of the char siu glaze with the lup cheong sausage really highlighted the Asian flavor tones. The smoky sweetness of the duck contrasted with the savory sweet sausage presented a nice window into Chinese flavors. 

dessert trio - ice cream sandwich with chambord ice cream, chocolate peanut crunch bar, house-made pocky
The dessert trio was a true treat and great way to finish off the meal. The Chambord ice cream was a great flavor as it was both recognizable in flavor while still being exciting in trying to determine where the flavor memory came from. The Chambord also gave the ice cream an extremely creamy texture. The peanut crunch bar was a well prepared balance between the chocolate and peanut flavors. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the pocky, while featured a deep fried noodle dipped in chocolate. Due to the quality of the chocolate, this pocky was superior to the original.

Bali Hai offers a great view of the downtown San Diego skyline and doesn't sacrifice in the quality or flavor of the food. The freshest seafood is featured on the menu and is priced reasonably for the entire experience. While the experience wasn't perfect, I really enjoyed the dining experience at Bali Hai and would highly recommend it to those looking for great seafood and an oceanfront dining experience.
Before assigning Bali Hai an award, I will be returning soon to experience Chef Powell's tasting menu. I believe giving Chef Powell the freedom to prepare what he wants would be more reflective of what is typically featured on gastrobits.


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
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