Bali Seafood Platter
 

Bali via Waikiki

A restaurant’s second act provides island hopping-without leaving Waikiki.

To anyone who wants waikiki to stand still for even a minute, you’re looking at the wrong city. perhaps it’s the salty sea breeze, the sunshine, or tender, loving wear-and-tear from the nearly five million visitors that come to O’ahu each year-ever since the strip’s creation there has never been a time without progress, redesign, evolution. Waikiki is an organic city, always in some state of transition. With so much going on, and with such natural beauty, a restaurant can’t just sit on the laurels of its location alone and wait for people to stumble in. It has to lure them in, and over time, reinvent itself. In December of 2013, Bali Steak & Seafood entered its second act, with new décor, a new menu, and a new executive chef, Joseph “JJ” Reinhart, who hopes visitors will find it just as fresh and exciting as ever.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village’s multi-million-dollar renovation includes many things-the remodeled Tapa Bar now comes with a striking overhead trellis, for example. But most impressive is the work done at its Paradise Lounge and Bali Steak & Seafood restaurant within the iconic Rainbow Tower nearest to the lagoon.

The padded arm chairs are out, replaced by masculine, clean, dark wood seats; the bar has been moved to the front door with stools for the casual diner. The dim lighting and serious furniture stands out on a rainy day, but it doesn’t (or can’t) compete with the beauty outside, perhaps Waikiki’s best side dish.

The décor also complements the menu’s attitude-this is a steakhouse, after all, and Reinhart is a man’s chef. In a second life after the classically trained and Tony-winning trumpeter quit music, he learned cuisine at the Playboy Mansion and made meals for Mexican President Vicente Fox.

“In a place like the Playboy Mansion, there’s definitely a lot of distractions,” Reinhart says with a wry smile. “But Mr. Hefner’s spirit of hospitality-he enjoys entertaining people-allowed us a lot of freedom to grow and to try new things. Once I got past the distractions, the world was open to pretty much discover the recipes I wanted to discover.”

These experimentations have led Reinhart to build a menu that appeals to multiple philosophies-the locavore tendency: “We’ve coined ‘island harvest cuisine,’ which means that whenever possible, we want to partner with local farmers, fishermen and ranchers, so that we’re utilizing as much as what Hawai’i has to offer,” he says; with an international flair: “To incorporate the flavors of Bali, it forces me to continue to learn. As I do my research on Indonesian food, there are so many parallels between Hawaiian cuisines. Creating subtle flavors of the dishes we put together, Balinese long pepper, the utilization of coconut, different exotic fruits. We’re constantly looking for new flavors to create a unique dining experience,” all with the posture of the American steakhouse.

The “island harvest cuisine” is an ideology drummed up by the various chefs at the Hilton and the focus extends throughout the campus. Christina Maffei, Hilton Hawaiian Village’s director of outlets, says this allows her to experiment with mixing the freshest ingredients into her cocktails-she says she uses every locally made spirit in her menu at Bali and the nearby Paradise Lounge, also remodeled.

When you get there, you should immediately ask for the Ilikea’s Mai Tai ($17). Maffei took the trophy at the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival in 2011 for this recipe, and it pairs very well with one of Reinhart’s pupu (appetizers), such as the Kona Lobster Bouillon ($14) or the Kiawe Smoked Beef Carpaccio ($15).

That Mai Tai will put your head in the right place, but wine must be had with steak. Order after you finish the cocktail but before your steak arrives and the wine will have a proper amount of time to aerate. Bali’s wine menu is extensive; according to Maffei, the restaurants within the Hilton are the only places on the island to offer their selection of first-growth Bordeaux, white burgundies, and vintage ports that date back to 1945, with prices and quality that run the gamut. A bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle chardonnay is $55, for example, while a 1961 bottle of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild can set you back $2,750.

With Bali Steak & Seafood’s reinvention, Maffei says they looked at the existing wine offerings and “incorporated wines that matched the ambiance and the cuisine along with what our guests are asking for.”

Along with the Bordeaux, it’s a mix of New World wines, a lot from California, with Australian and New Zealand wines. Th ey offer sparkling, white, and red wines by the glass ($9-$25), and selections will evolve based on what’s popular.

Whereas Reinhart’s food menu is sturdy, he has a light touch. The wedge salad ($14), built with iceberg lettuce under house-cured bacon, onions from Maui, and a tomato dressing, is good for two.

Reinhart also makes a good baby romaine Caesar salad with Big Island greens.

As for red meat, on a recent visit an 8-ounce filet came on a warm plate with smoked salt-gorgonzola butter sauce and a stroke of carrot puree underneath that gave the perfect balance of slightly sweet and salty. Clearly, Reinhart knows how to make the right ingredients go a long way. You can add Kona lobster tail ($24), king crab Oscar ($30) or bone marrow ($18).

Seafood is served chilled-shrimp cocktail ($18), lobster carpaccio ($20)-or hot. Fresh seafood includes grilled ono, also known as wahoo ($34), roasted mahi mahi ($34), or you can order a platter for two, complete with ‘ahi poke, king crab, jumbo shrimp, abalone sea asparagus salad, and Kona kampachi crudo for $64.

Sides include the creamy, not-too-heavy corn and bacon polenta brûlée, lobster potato gratin, coconut jasmine rice, or a handful of other selections. The menu changes based on seasons and what is available.

As the chef at Morimoto and Sansei after that, Reinhart says his eyes are “definitely open to what is available around us. When we look at what’s available locally, versus what’s coming in from the mainland, it makes sense to use what’s here.”

If you have any room left to put it, Bali’s dessert menu also offers a broad spread of local favorite ingredients such as warm malasada bites ($10) or roasted Kona coffee crème brûlée with Maui raw sugar and a macadamia nut biscotti ($11).

“Over the next few years, we’re just going to continue to grow,” Reinhart says. “With the food scene in Hawai’i, it’s a freight train moving forward. There’s so many good things going on, and we want to lead that charge, to see what we can come up with.”

Bali is open in the evenings, with a view of the sun at its golden hour. As much as Waikiki might have changed over the years, you realize something as you look out across those rolling pink and purple flat-bottomed Pacific clouds floating in the sunset: Whatever shape this restaurant or the city takes in the future, this view will always be as beautiful.

Bali Steak & Seafood, Hilton Hawaiian Village, 949-4321 ext. 43 or visit www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com

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