Bali Wine Bar & Grill2416 18th St.
Sacramento, CA 95818
It’s just as festive and welcoming once you’re inside. There’s an appealing array of carved wood objects (presumably from Bali), stylish tableware and plenty of art—including a print of a Balinese dancer with an unusually startled look on her face. Even though the restaurant has been open for only four months, a large proportion of the clientele seemed to be regulars, getting hugs and a warm greeting from the gracious hostess.
The friendly touch was extended immediately, when little nibbles appeared as soon as we sat down. Spicy, crunchy pickled vegetables and shrimp chips, with a hot chili paste for dipping, made a perfect opening note.
The short wine list was a less-promising surprise. There was nothing particularly wrong with the wines offered, and they were well-priced, but I would have thought that a restaurant billing itself as a “wine bar” would have a wider, more adventurous or more distinctive selection. (Although I feel a bit churlish pointing it out, it struck me as a slightly bad sign that the wine list’s sections were headed “White Whines” and “Red Whines.”) For instance, there were just half a dozen whites: three chardonnays, one sparkler, one sauvignon blanc and one viognier. Considering the spicy-sweet Asian flavors of the menu, this selection represents a missed opportunity to offer the whites that generally go best with Asian foods: Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
I was more intrigued with the food menu, which offered a number of tasty-sounding choices. We started with a green salad and an order of beef satay. The salad was a pleasing mix of greens, bean sprouts, chunks of cucumber and pieces of avocado, topped with a teepee-like structure of long, narrow ciabatta croutons. The tangy lime vinaigrette was slightly marred by the dusty flavor of dried herbs, which competed with the freshness of the salad.
The satay was quite different from familiar cubes or strips of meat. Instead, spheres of seasoned, juicy, grilled ground beef were speared on stalks of lemon grass. I liked the sweet, coconutty peanut sauce alongside the dish.
There were plenty of choices for entrees, including a range of soups and noodle dishes that sounded very yummy. But I was hungry enough to be in a more carnivorous mood, so I found myself drawn to the meat-heavy list of house specialties. These included ribs, steak, and barbecued or fried chicken “marinated in Bali spices.” That sounded pretty good to me. My husband went for the pork chops with a sweet soy glaze.
Unfortunately, the chicken wasn’t quite what I expected. The spices were so subtle I could barely taste them, and the two pieces of white meat were a little dry. The drumstick, however, was juicy and tasty, and the light fried crust was nice. Overall, the plate was dry and a little bland, making me wish I’d tried the grilled chicken, which promised house-made barbecue sauce. (And I cast more than a few longing glances at the beautifully glazed, sticky, unctuous-looking ribs that a woman at the next table had ordered.) On the other hand, I couldn’t stop eating the aromatic Bali rice that came with our entrees, with its infusion of ginger and coconut.
My husband’s pork chops—a large portion of two enormous chops—were the better choice, juicy and savory. The soy glaze mostly had dripped to the bottom of the plate, along with some bits of shallot and chili. The pork was excellent when sopped in the salty-sweet sauce.
The hands-down choice for dessert is the sorbet. You get your pick of four flavors: coconut, pineapple, orange or lemon. All come with vanilla ice cream, plus a topping of mango, kiwi and coconut flakes. We went for the pineapple, and the bowl was a dramatic surprise. The flavorful sorbet came inside half of a hollowed-out baby pineapple. It was frozen so cold that once my tongue briefly stuck to my spoon. The fruit was set on top of the ice cream—a pretty presentation, but one that made it a little hard to eat.
The concoction, however, was definitely big enough for two, and it ended dinner on a fun tropical note. This is the sort of little escapist fantasy that makes Bali Wine Bar and Grill a nice spot for a party or a group. (The night we were there, a large birthday party was in full swing.) With a few minor tweaks to the food and wine program, this appealing spot can be every bit as good as it looks from the outside.