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Cover Story

Bali Turns Over a New Leaf

By Alana Folen Photos By Leah Friel
January 26, 2014

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As one of Hawaii’s premier resorts, Hilton Hawaiian Village in the heart of Waikiki always keeps up with the times. This year, in fact, guests at the Hilton will notice some impressive enhancements to the property, including the redesign of the Village’s iconic Bali Steak & Seafood, and the adjacent Paradise Lounge.

Once a renowned fine-dining restaurant praised for its award-winning surf and turf selections, Bali recently re-established itself as a place of casual elegance and sophisticated flair. Patrons will notice subtle nuances of Bali-esque Indonesian accents, including artwork and cuisine laced with Balinese ingredients.

Dining Out recently paid a visit to the new and improved Bali Steak & Seafood, which officially opened its doors to the public Christmas Eve. We met with Chef de Cuisine JJ Reinhart, who played a vital role in creating Bali’s new menu concept best described as “Island Harvest Cuisine” showcasing exotic flavors from Hawaii, Bali and the Philippines.

“We’re staying true to generational recipes while sourcing locally from within the Hawaiian Islands whenever possible,” Reinhart says, as he delved into the lavish details about Bali’s exquisite transformation.

DO: Bali debuted in 1982 in the Tapa Tower at Hilton Hawaiian Village. What was the restaurant’s philosophy back then?

Reinhart: The theme at the time was “French Pacific,” but as palates began to change, the menu evolved to a more Pacific Rim-style cuisine. In 1988, Bali was relocated to the mezzanine level of the Rainbow Tower and renamed Bali by the Sea, continuing its impeccable service and extraordinary cuisine. More recently, in 2009, the restaurant underwent a concept change and a variety of steaks were added to complement the establishment’s exquisite seafood offerings. The restaurant was renamed Bali Steak & Seafood. Even back in 1982, chefs took pride in using the freshest of local ingredients in the menu items — long before “farm to table” was a standard of fine dining.

DO: What makes Bali stand out in Hawaii’s restaurant scene?

Reinhart: Bali Steak & Seafood has the longest-running record of Automobile Association of America’s Four-Diamond awards in Hawaii. For 25 years, Bali has been recognized by AAA for its Exceptional Cuisine, Excellent Service and Elegant Dinner Atmosphere.

DO: After a three-month makeover, renovations finally are complete. At first glance, the restaurant is almost unrecognizable. It has re-established its ambiance and overall dining concept. Chef, can you touch on this?

Reinhart: Known for its spectacular oceanfront view of Waikiki Beach, the energy of Bali is reinterpreted through the restaurant’s new contemporary, refined space. Since the recent makeover, the atmosphere at Bali is refined, but still relaxed. It is a very comfortable restaurant with great sunset and waterfront views. Our desire also was to open up the space between the restaurant and lounge, providing a more relaxed setting for patrons. Led by San Francisco-based Puccini Group, the redesign blends sophisticated elements, such as fabrics and textures inspired by Balinese wood carvings, with a vibrant color pallete and floral patterns to evoke the feeling of paradise with a distinct Hawaii stamp.

Blending seamlessly with Bali Steak & Seafood, the new Paradise Lounge area encourages guests to relax in a space that brings the outdoors in. A tropical color scheme that includes bright and modern coral and turquoise hues enlivens the space, incorporating the designs of the restaurant’s geometric patterns and compositions in a contemporary way. The art selected for both the restaurant and lounge pay homage to Bali’s culture with re-envisioned traditional woven baskets, masks and imagery of the verdant landscape.

With an emphasis on creating a sense of warmth and ease, pops of color, furniture with poolside flair and intimate seating configurations function to achieve the feeling of a breezy and carefree island lounge.

DO: Chef, you have such an interesting and diverse background in the culinary world. Please share about your previous work experience.

Reinhart: I attended culinary school at Scottsdale Culinary Institute In Scottsdale, Ariz. Then, in December 2003, I began working at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, Calif. After a few months there, I also accepted a position at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey and held these two jobs concurrently for two years. Seizing the opportunity for full-time status, I left Ritz-Carlton to focus on my career with Playboy. Within six months, I was promoted to chef de cuisine, the position I held until I left in February 2010, when I moved to Hawaii to open Morimoto Waikiki. In November 2012, I left Morimoto and became executive chef of Sansei Seafood and Sushi Bar in Waikiki. I held that position for two years before joining the Hilton family last November.

DO: That’s an extensive background. Bali is lucky to have you. What can patrons expect from the revamped menu?

Reinhart: The new Bali restaurant is building on the rich history that Bali has created of great food and impeccable service. We are also taking a modern approach to upscale dining. The menu is focused on supporting local artisans, fishermen and farmers in our “Island Harvest Cuisine” approach.

A handful of dishes to look forward to include Lobster Carpaccio ($20) with roasted island beets, pistachios and hearts of palm drizzled with a white honey vinaigrette, and Kiawe Smoked Beef Carpaccio ($15), featuring thinly sliced raw beef tenderloin, smoked with local kiawe wood, dressed with Hamakua mushrooms, Ho Farms tomatoes, ‘Nalo Farms Mizuna, pickled mustard seeds and horseradish powder. This dish highlights the flavor of the locally grown mesquite wood paired with Big Island grown mushrooms and confit tomatoes.

Also, a unique soup that we serve is Tomato and Green Papaya Soup ($10), which consists of braised and blended Big Island tomato and green papaya soup, garnished with cilantro and macadamia nut relish, along with smoked paprika. The soup offers a unique spin off of a classic tomato soup. Accented with flavors of cardamom and cinnamon leaf, this is a wonderful vegan option that appeals to all.

Our Salt Roasted Kona Kampachi ($39) is amazing! The skin is roasted and dusted generously with salt to crisp the skin. And for meat enthusiasts, Bali’s Tomahawk presents 36 ounces of dry-aged bone-in ribeye for two ($60 per person).

DO: That sounds delicious! What are other culinary creations that you would recommend? And what’s your personal favorite on the menu?

Reinhart: Hamakua Tomato and Surfing Goat Feta Cheese Salad ($15) introduces our guests to a wonderful artisan on Maui producing Surfing Goat Feta cheese. There is a slight island twist to the salad with flavors of sesame and citrus.

Our Chilled Seafood Platter ($85) is a great shared option. This platter includes Kona Kampachi, Hawaiian Ahi Poke, Big Island Abalone, Jumbo Shrimp and King Crab (for an additional $24, you can add chilled Kona Cold Lobster Tail). And diners must try Kona Lobster Bouillon ($14), a rich lobster soup with Kahuku sweet corn, edamame and Thai basil.

My personal favorite is Ahi Chateaubriand Au Poivre for two ($55 per person). This is a 20-ounce, center-cut piece of Hawaiian ahi. We serve it with a pink peppercorn sauce — a more floral version of the classic peppercorn sauce.

DO: It’s evident that supporting local farms and incorporating local ingredients is a main priority for you, correct?

Reinhart: Absolutely! We strive to work with local artisans, ranchers, fishermen, as well as farmers to show our guests the great products that are available to us in the Islands.

DO: For decades, both locals and tourists have created many memories here. What is it about the restaurant that keeps patrons coming back for more?

Reinhart: Excellent food, wonderful service and incredible views. We look to creating an unforgettable dining experience for our guests.

DO: What do you foresee in the near future for Bali?

Reinhart: Bali will always look forward to continue to develop new flavors and find new ways to support our local artisans and farmers in our commitment to provide our guests with a truly unique and memorable dining experience.

Bali Steak & Seafood

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
2005 Kalia Road, Rainbow Tower, second floor, honolulu
949-4321 Ext. 43 (Dining reservations are necessary)
Tuesday-Saturday 5-9 p.m.
Note: Validated parking for any restaurant on property.
HiltonHawaiianVillage.com