Historic Bali Hai Restaurant Revitalized with Remodel, New Chef, and New Menu
The Bali Hai restaurant has been a long-standing dining destination on the San Diego waterfront. It opened in 1955 and has been part of many San Diego families’ long standing traditions. The restaurant is best known for its sweeping bay front views, oversized Mai Tais and distinctive Asian fusion cuisine.
Bali Hai has been family owned and operated for over five decades, and when we visited Bali Hai for dinner we were happily greeted by owners Susie Baumann and her husband Larry. Also on site for the evening were their sons Grant, Andy and Tommy. The family has worked hard to revitalize the Bali Hai property to make it a stand out destination for lunch, dinner, happy hour, and even special events and weddings.
Upon arrival, one can’t help but notice Mr. Bali Hai, the large playful tiki sculpture that stands proudly at the doors to this Shelter Island paradise. Walk through the large doors at the entrance and you’ll soon start to relax in the refurbished Polynesian-style building. Before you know it, you’ll swear you’re on island time.
Views from anywhere in the facility are breathtaking. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the building providing diners with an unobstructed view of the San Diego Bay. The interior, however, wasn’t always this way. Back in 2010 architect Graham Downes was brought on board to reinvigorate the San Diego landmark restaurant. His team fully restored the original internal timber structure which is made up of 15 types of wood. The entire structure was sandblasted to expose beautiful natural wood tones of brown, yellow and orange.
Explaining the atmosphere does not do the Bali Hai justice. It really must be seen in person to appreciate the beauty of the Polynesian concept. The restaurant is lit up with natural tones and Polynesian artifacts.
In addition to revitalizing the structure of the restaurant, the Bali Hai restaurant has brought on a vibrant new chef that has beautifully balanced the traditional menu items with new offerings that will whet the palate of any discerning food lover.
Executive Chef Ben Lieberman, previously with San Diego hot spot Burlap, has utilized his forward-thinking approach to develop an inspired Pacific Rim-style menu, capitalizing on the wonderful array of farm-fresh regional ingredients we get in San Diego.
“We are thrilled that Ben has already put his many talents to good work here,” said Larry Baumann, co-owner of Bali Hai. “With his background in Asian cooking and extensive knowledge of the local market, our menus will now change frequently, depending on what is freshly caught and available from local farms, markets and suppliers.”
Capitalizing on the region’s farm fresh produce and abundant seafood Lieberman has introduced new summer menus for lunch, happy hour and dinner. Everything served is delicious, but the highlight of the dining experience was definitely the Crispy Ahi Tuna Tower. Or maybe it was the California White Sea Bass, or the brussels sprouts (Yes, I said it. The brussels sprouts were incredible).
Whatever you choose as your appetizer, main course, or dessert will be incredibly fresh and well presented. Paired with a fruity island cocktail and you just might forget that you aren’t on vacation. Or, like many others before you, you may realize how lucky we all are to call this beautiful city home.