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Shelter Island’s sanctuary for tiki drinks and Pacific Rim fare, Bali Hai, bid adieu to former executive chef Chris Powell earlier this year. Powell had put in two years of enthusiastic service that included good food and spirited ideas for a line of adult Sno-cones before deciding to move on to TAPS Fish House and Brewery (a very cool brewpub in Brea).

Bali Hai recently appointed a new exec chef, 34-year-old Ben Lieberman. His name may sound familiar to local dining enthusiasts, as he was the chef de cuisine at Brian Malarkey’s downtown hotspot, Searsucker, and later at his Del Mar Highlands “Asian cowboy-themed” restaurant, Burlap.

His old gig provides recent familiarity with working with a large culinary team, which will be helpful since Bali Hai’s totals 30. Otherwise, the two restaurants are quite different.

Burlap was a newcomer to the scene that packed its spacious house nightly with members of the North County Coastal glitterati (and those who long to be a member of that club). Meanwhile, Bali Hai is a 55-year-old stalwart with a much calmer atmosphere and some room on the reservation books.

Lieberman’s focus going in is on revamping the menu to include fare that changes with the seasons and incorporates ingredients from local waters and farmland. Early dishes include seared diver scallops with glazed pork belly and ginger-soy butter, and chopped chicken salad with edamame and ginger-plum dressing.

A graduate of Johnson and Wales University, his résumé includes positions at Paris Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Spago at Caesar’s Palace, and Katsuya in Los Angeles where he was the executive sous chef. He’s got the pedigree, and it will be fun to watch him put his stamp on the restaurant…especially after downing one of Bali Hai’s oversized Mai Tais.

Bali Hai is located at 2230 Shelter Island Drive.

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