Friday, September 24, 2010

Stack it High at Bali Hai

We came across Bali Hai after a work project had one of us exploring Ninth Street. This Mongolian grill, in the shopping center just past Elmo’s on the west side of the street, has a concept we’d heard of before—fill a bowl with the ingredients of your choice and have it stir-fried while you wait. The challenge, we found, is in maximizing the food for your dollar—if you can get it in the bowl, they’ll cook it—and using your creativity to build your own meal.
The restaurant is pretty casual and had a decent lunch crowd when we arrived around 12:15—probably in part to the reasonable prices ($5.95 for one lunch bowl). The menu is pretty simple and stays the same for lunch and dinner, although appetizer and dessert options are added in the evening (which we were sad to miss out on—the banana spring rolls intrigued our taste buds). Based on your appetite, you decide how many bowls you want to fill (up to 3)—this includes a nice variety of vegetables (carrots, eggplant, zucchini, onions, pineapple…) as well as beef, pork, and turkey. For more you can add-on additional meat and seafood options (one of us added shrimp and scallops for an extra $5, but decided the quality was probably not worth the price).

Then you add the flavor to your meal by selecting one of their six sauces—House, Sweet & Sour, Spicy, Combination or Curry (unfortunately you can only choose one per meal). If you go with the spicy sauce you get to choose your heat level from a scale of 1 to 10—since we had to return to work we decided to keep it conservative and stayed at 5-6, but we both felt like we could have handled a couple degrees hotter and are very curious about Level 10.
Being true Girls with Guts, we ordered two bowls each. One of us elected for the spicy (spice level 6) and curry sauce mix and the other for the combination sauce (spice level 5). We headed over to the food bar and began to fill our bowls. We weren’t sure how all the ingredients would mesh together, but found that once everything was cooked in sauce, all the favors blended. Some of the food appeared to be freeze dried and not fresh, but the end result was not disappointing; however, it didn’t blow us away either. It is also important to note that Bali Hai does not provide to-go boxes making it even more important to take your appetite into consideration before piling on the food.

The most enjoyable part of the meal was watching how creative everyone got with filling their bowls to maximum capacity—there appear to be some seasoned pros. There are no clear rules about how much food you can take per bowl, but basically as long as it stays stacked you can keep building (kinda like Jenga). We saw one guy using a pyramid strategy; others just have efficient packing methods. Now that we know this we would probably stick to one bowl on another visit—many people got more food in one bowl than we got in two.