Bali needs a boost
The service is great, but a special menu could use a jolt of creativity
I'm so accustomed to handing out two stars for service that revisiting the Hilton Hawaiian Village's Bali-by-the-Sea was a shock to my system.
I had requested the special Chef's Table menu in advance, and it seemed that the entire staff was aware of it and prepared for it, springing into immediate action. This was no case of special treatment because the name I gave on the reservation was not mine, but right away, new chef Adam Hightower was at our tableside to greet us and gauge our tastes before sending out an appetite-whetting amuse bouche of sashimi.
Communication! Hospitality! These are wonderful things and here, available in abundance, from delighting a Japanese wedding party with a chocolate Diamond Head filled with truffles, to greeting annual mainland visitors by name and sending them off with a hug and "See you next year!"
At this festive time, you could ask for no better treatment. I was mainly curious to see what Hightower would offer on his menus because chef Roberto Los Banos, now promoted to the resort's executive sous chef, is no easy act to follow. His innate understanding of local flavors and ingredients led to respectful and tasteful fusion fare appreciated by kamaaina well aware of how tacky fusion can be in the wrong hands.
HIGHTOWER'S revamping of Bali's menu is not yet complete, so I'll probably have to return to check it out, but for now the idea of a Chef's Table dinner was too tempting to resist.
Any visit to Bali-by-the-Sea is enhanced by the stroll through the property's koi ponds and gardens populated by flamingos, black swans and ducks. Arrive early and aim for a window seat for a view of the beach and Diamond Head. Yes, it's the cliché, but don't let cynicism get in the way of enjoying life's pleasures.
Staff and ambience set the stage for a wonderful experience. But in light of the caliber of special menus offered by other chefs in town, Bali's seemed too pedestrian and only slightly better than hotel luncheon fare.
The civilian me was perfectly fine with the sort of fare that just about everyone enjoys. Hotels are in the business of pleasing guests, after all, including the finicky, strictly meat-and-potatoes sort that do exist, so that is a consideration in creating a menu. But the other me, who's eaten at some of the best restaurants in the country, detected laziness and/or a lack of creativity. Surely at least one menu could be offered that demonstrates some passion for cuisine, instead of rote repetition.
COURTESY HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE
Seared ahi is a specialty of Bali-by-the-Sea in the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
I had trouble deciding between menus 1 and 2, and went with menu 2 for its combination of filet mignon and lobster versus filet mignon and opakapaka crusted with macadamia nuts and cilantro on menu 2. Both are $70 without wine, and in this day and age I thought it was strange that they did not include a menu of paired wines.
The first course was a warm, wintery duck confit and filling wild mushroom risotto well suited to the season. This was followed by an island bouillabaisse containing as much diced vegetables as seafood, like minestrone, only with the unmistakable flavor of saffron.
Produce in the form of Manoa butter lettuce hearts, avocado and slices of sweet Kamiya papaya were fanned out on plates for a salad, accompanied by a couple of poached shrimp and a sprinkling of Bali's mild champagne dressing.
When the filet mignon arrived well done, I realized we were never asked how we wanted the steaks cooked. And the tempura-style lobster was disappointing. The batter added nothing to enhance it. This was one instance in which doing less would have been more favorable.
Dessert was a refreshing soup of champagne and fresh strawberries served in a cookie tuille, and if you save room for it, you can enjoy your chocolate mignardises on the spot. Meals are filling here, so most people end up taking home their little Diamond Heads.
Maybe the new chef is busy with holiday plans, including a wild-game holiday menu ($56) to be offered Dec. 16 to 30 (except Dec. 18 and 25), Gift for the Gourmet Christmas dinner ($77 adults, $39 children) and New Year's Eve Reveillon Dinner ($115). All look delicious on paper. It's no wonder the chef's table seems to be getting short shrift, but that should never happen.
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin.