2230 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island
When I’m stressed out, an ocean view is the tonic that I crave. There’s something so calming about that expanse of blue, the ripples on the surface, the wide openness of the water. Recently, after a tense, hectic morning, I was ready to call it a day by 2 p.m. and heard in my mind’s ears the beckon of blue. Which is how David and I ended up at Bali Hai on Shelter Island, a place that delivers not only the view I was seeking but the power of the curative cocktail.
Bali Hai is as popular for its potent potions as it is for its panorama of the San Diego Bay. On past visits I have always gone straight for the most popular (and strongest) drink, the World Famous Bali Hai Mai Tai, which is listed on the menu under the bolded, all caps headline, “STRONG LIBATIONS!!! You’ve been warned!!!”
On this visit, however, the view was already calming me down, so I decided to try something new, listed as a “local favorite,” the Paralyzing Puffer Fish ($10). In my glass was Ballast Point Three Sheets Barrel Aged Rum, Fugu Horchata Vodka, Cruzan 151, passion syrup, pineapple juice, and fresh squeezed lime. It was refreshing, surprisingly not too sweet or tart, I imagined it was the hint of horchata flavoring that rounded out the flavors so nicely. David ordered the Planter’s Punch ($8.25) with Coruba Dark Rum, Cruzan Aged Light Rum, and homemade fruit punch. He loved it. For me, in the moment, it was a little on the sweet side, but it was plenty flavorful, reminiscent of the Poncho Punch Otter Pops of my childhood.
Because of the extensive list of knock-you-on-your-ass drinks, I can only imagine the staff at Bali Hai has dealt with their fair share of sloppy patrons. Perhaps this is why, despite the menu’s Pacific Island-esque bent, the first thing to arrive on the table is a giant basket of thick, dense sourdough. It’s fresh and warm and makes for an appetizing alcohol sponge.
We began with Crispy Spring Vegetable Rolls ($9), served with pickled mango dipping sauce. They were lava hot, and the exterior was a little flour-y, but they were enjoyable nonetheless.
For lunch I ordered the Cashew Chicken Salad ($14). Though the chicken was overcooked and therefore on the dry side, the salad itself was delightful. The sesame dressing was light but present, and the occasional morsel of sweet and citrus-y ripe mandarin, along with the satisfying nuttiness of thinly sliced cashews, added more dimension to what, in essence, is a pretty simple salad. The crunchy wontons on top made each bite more fun and more satisfying.
David got the Aloha Seafood Plate ($19) with salmon, grilled shrimp, and furikake (Japanese dry seasoning) rice. The fish was slightly overcooked, but he enjoyed the marinade on the salmon and was surprised to receive not one but two generous filets. About the shrimp, David said, “It’s not overcooked, but it’s unremarkable, flavor wise. It could have benefited from some of the sauce used on the salmon.” A fan of furikake, he was happy with the rice.
We lingered long enough for me to get a second drink (another of the same), at which point I realized I’d be useless for the rest of the day. As I stared at the water, settled into my seat, and took a deep breath, I decided I’d made the right call.