Picture yourself coming back to port after sailing; it’s still sunny and you don’t want to call it a day yet. Dock on the Blue Wave Bar and Grill’s pier, walk up the rustic steps and make yourself at home on the patio with a tangy cocktail as you lose yourself in the view of a thousand masts and the blue of the bay. If coming by land, as you walk into the lobby of the Best Western Island Palms Hotel and Marina, you’ll be greeted by the roar of the water falling free from a cascade set among green plants and palm trees reminiscent of a tropical Island. This entrance is a nice prelude to the Blue Wave Bar and Grill’s new South Pacific-inspired decor.
This charming restaurant offers indoor seating in a spacious room decorated with Polynesian carved wood motifs surrounded by large windows that invite in the breathtaking waterfront views. The 20 or so tables in the main dining room are set apart at a comfortable distance from each other to allow for private conversations. Adjacent to this space is a private area that can be reserved for large groups. On the patio, the panoramic view of the sky, the blue bay water, the palm trees, and the myriad boats and yachts frolicking on the water will transport you to instant serenity. The level of noise in both areas is quite moderate and the background music is conducive to quiet conversation.
The bar has a beat of its own; a popular room with TV screens, it is often bustling with business people on a break, tourists looking for a quick bite from the Americana menu, and sports aficionados in need of a score and a beer. Should the noise level rise, the handy door may be closed to avoid the over-enthusiasm from spilling into the quieter dining room. Maria Isabel, our hostess, shows us to a table in the main dining room where we are promptly greeted by our personable server, Tom.
Tom answers questions about the bar’s specialty libations and the selection of wines by the glass, and then shows us handsome menus for bar finger foods and a variety of refreshing drinks. I order a Shelter Island Iced Tea, the bar tender’s pride. My friend orders the Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio, which is available by the glass.
While we wait for our drinks we review the dinner menu, which places an emphasis on Polynesian-fusion creations. We get excited about the menu’s variety of ingredients like the soy and brown sugar vinaigrette of the adobo and the liberal use of tropical fruit in the dish preparations.
When Tom serves us our drinks we take a moment to savor them. My Shelter Island Iced Tea enters my palate in layers of sweet and sour sensations, then finishes with the punch of the master mix of rum, gin, and tequila. I take a taste of the Pinot Grigio and find that this white grape holds its own as it lingers in the mouth to disperse its fruity tones before it leaves slowly.
Tom returns with a large, slightly concave white ceramic plate presenting an unlikely duo of Hawaiian Pork Belly and Ahi Poke separated by a long strip of bright green banana leaf. The poke has been marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil. The slightly smoky background taste of the marinade is complemented by the sweetness of fresh chives in such a way that the smooth diced Ahi takes on the flavors like fish to water and the palate celebrates the magical union. The intriguing pork square is delicately glazed in pineapple juice and roasted. The caramelized and somewhat crisp skin contrasts with the buttery texture of the meat, but coordinate brilliantly as one bite. The plate is sprinkled with exotic lava salt, which turns out to be one of Executive Chef Marc Brislin’s favorite ingredients.
Between courses, Food and Beverage Manager Jess Diaz tells us about the transformations the restaurant has undergone since it was built in 1958. Of the several phases, one he recalls is when the present dining room was a sort of game room with pool tables and a popcorn machine -- a far cry from the elegant decor of today. Along with the remodeling, the Blue Wave Bar and Grill has also experienced transformations with the style and presentations of the food they serve. Chef Brislin is aware of an increasingly knowledgeable clientele made savvy by popular food shows on TV, and strives to satisfy these discerning palates.
This awareness certainly shows in the next two courses. The ti leaf pan-roasted filet of Sea Bass arrives on beautiful white china, resting on a bed of sticky rice beside a drizzling of tangerine oil. The golden brown filet is topped with a mound of green, peculiar little stems reminiscent of a blend between broccolini and asparagus. Luckily, Tom is there to explain that this exotic plant known as “Sea Beans” is found along the coast of Ensenada. We fork-slice into the tender fish to grab a bite of all these appealing elements. The slight tartness of the sea beans tames the sweetness of the tangerine oil, making a harmonious combination with each bite of the firm but flaky fish. The fruity tones of the Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio enhance the sweet and sour sensations of the dish.
We continue with the char-broiled New York Steak served with match stick russets and steamed asparagus. This dish takes the French dish of steak and fries, or “Steak Frites,” to the next level with the addition of a demi-glace, which is a sauce made by reducing herb-infused veal stock with red wine. I am seduced by the first bite: the knife cuts into the succulent steak, the fork secures the meat, picks up some fries, and sweeps through the sauce while my mouth waters in anticipation. The slight acidity of the demi-glace brings out the fresh beef flavor and the fries lend extra texture to each delicious bite.
Before we engage in this culinary pleasure I ask Tom to recommend a red wine pairing for the steak. He brings a 2005 Saint Francis Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley. The berry undertones of this slightly oaked wine are a nice complement to the demi-glace. The wine carte offers Cabernets, Pinots and Merlots among many white grapes that emphasize the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, while honoring the up and coming areas of Oregon punctuated by a few Argentine varieties like the famed Malbec.
To end on a sweet note, Tom presents us with a Trio of Dessert Shooters, a presentation dreamed up by Chef Brislin to offer an array of sweet samples to the diner. One of the pretty glasses holds a sort of deconstructed Baklava with the pistachio and honey filling on the bottom and discs of crisp phillo dough adorning the top. A spoonful of the two elements has the effect of eating the traditional baked layers of this crunchy Greek favorite. The Key Lime Pie shooter is prepared with the crust in the bottom and the Hawaiian lime custard on top, and is garnished with a slice of caramelized lime. It is a sweet and tart delight that makes the taste buds cringe so slightly until the sweetness reaches them to finish the tangy effect. Last is the Tiramisu with cognac and espresso coffee, a classic favorite reminiscent of my mom’s desserts.
Executive Chef Marc Brislin brings all his experience, imagination, and talents into his menu and it shows in the presentation and the obvious skill of method and preparation. There’s nothing else to do but linger with the remaining wine, relishing the tasty experience we just had.
The staff smile a “see-you-soon” smile as we walk out, the bar is alive with lively conversation, the boats and yachts rest in their stalls, and the lights sparkle in the quiet blue bay waters inviting us to visit them again, and again.