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  • Writer's pictureJarnard Sutton

Behind the Stick with Olivia Daniel of Bali Hai

If you're looking for a spot with history, great food, stiff cocktails and a great view then Bali Hai Restaurant is your spot. Located on Shelter Island, Bali Hai has been providing the community with stiff mai tai's an ddelicious food sinfor over 50 years. Senior bartender Olivia Daniel shares her dangerously refreshing cocktail called Paralyzing Pufferfish with Behind the Stick.

Paralyzing Pufferfish


Courtesy Jarnard Sutton

1.25 oz Fugu Horchata Vodka 1.25 oz Three Sheets Barrel Aged Rum .50 oz Cruzan Aged 151 Proof Rum .50 oz Trader Vic's Passion Fruit Syrup 2 fresh squeezed lime wedges 1.50 oz pineapple juice Garnishes: pineapple wedge and cherry

What's the story behind the Paralyzing Pufferfish? Ballast Point brought us a variety of their spirits to play with. We were all immediately fascinated with the Fugu Horchata flavored vodka. Of course Horchata is a staple in our beloved Mexican food restaurants here in San Diego. Since we're a Polynesian fusion restaurant, with most of our drinks predominately using rum, we thought it would be fun to mix this tribute to our local roots with their Three Sheets Barrel Aged Rum. After playing around a bit with the mix of these two and a variety of fruit juices, we noticed that when shaken, it frothed up similarly to a cocktail that we used to have on the menu called the Missionary's Downfall. That drink had to be discontinued because a key ingredient in it, Coconut Snow, was no longer available. Once we noticed how the drink mixed, it occurred to us look back at that original recipe. This is where the Trader Vic's Passion Fruit Syrup and fresh squeezed lime wedges came to join in. At this point we knew we had found something unique and tasty, but it still lacked a little something and was just a bit too sweet. At the same time we were trying to come up with a name. The bottle of Fugu Horchata flavored vodka has a puffer fish on it. Fugu is a puffer fish that is eaten as a Japanese delicacy, but contains some highly poisonous organs. The name Paralyzing Pufferfish was born. With a name like that, it needed a little bite. We added that Cruzan Aged 151 proof rum and it took that edge off the sweetness with the extra added "paralyzing" property for once you've finished. Describe the taste? This concoction has nice layers of flavors. You have the light creaminess of the Fugu Horchata Vodka with its hints of cinnamon and vanilla. Those flavors are complimented with the flavor profile of Ballast Point's Three Sheets Barrel Aged Rum which is aged for two years in oak barrels and has hints of toffee, caramel and vanilla as well. The small amount of passion fruit syrup and pineapple juice gives a little taste of the islands. The squeezed lime gives a fresh burst and Cruzan Aged 151 proof rum just a slight bite, both of which help to balance the sweetness of the other ingredients. What's the key component of this drink? The Fugu Horchata Vodka is definitely the component that makes this drink taste so unique. What reactions do you get from customers when they try this cocktail for the first time? My favorite is the sip, a curious tilt of the head, a lick of the lips, followed by, "Damn that's good! What is that flavor that I'm tasting?" (After you list off what's in it, the response is usually, "Oh man, that's dangerous!") What's a good dish to pair with this cocktail? Our Hawaiian Tuna Poke, Crispy Ahi Tuna or Wok Fried Bass.

What kind of experience can guests get at Bali Hai? I have never worked in a place that bridges the gap between every walk of life and every generation like The Bali Hai before. Whether you're visiting San Diego or a local that has been coming here for years, The Bali Hai will always make you feel like you've been transported to an exotic island where worries can fall away and good times with new or old friends can be had.

About Olivia Daniel

Are you from San Diego?

I was born here in San Diego, but when I was six months old, we moved to Jackson Hole. We always came back to visit family and I always knew I wanted to return to build a life here. I've been back for eight years now. What's your favorite thing about bartending?

It's being a part of people's life experiences. The Bali Hai has been around for 62 years. It's an iconic place to celebrate life. On any given day, we treat people to their very first experience here, their favorite place to come when they visit, and a place where some have been coming to for years. Some people came here on their first date, got married here, came here with their grandparents. I love watching people coming up those stairs for the first time and listening to the Oh's and Ah's of seeing the view for the first time. I love seeing repeat travelers too. My favorite has been becoming a part of people's life experiences that have held Bali Hai close to their hearts for generations.

What's your favorite spirit?

I'm typically a brew gal. However, after years in the industry, I have grown to appreciate all of the spirits. Since my tenure here, I have grown particularly fond of rum. We carry some amazing sipping rums. I would typically prefer to sip on a 23 year old Ron Zacapa rum over an aged bourbon or scotch any day now.

Define the perfect cocktail. Cocktails and food are like art...they are subjective. As a bartender, it is your job to have the ability to "read" your guests. What kind of experience are they looking for? Get a little info. What's bringing them in today? Are they just flying in? Are they local? Is this a place they will get to experience again? Are they celebrating something special? What do they normally like to drink? The perfect cocktail is one where the bartender uses their skills to pair up their guests with the perfect cocktail for their individual desired experience at their establishment. Who is your mentor in the bartending industry?

After living in Jackson Hole, I ended up in Flagstaff, Arizona. I went back and forth between the two for thirteen years. When I was in high school I went to work for a steak and seafood house named Buster's Restaurant and Bar in Flagstaff. I got hired on as a bus girl at sixteen and was trained by a guy named James. I followed his lead through the ranks in that restaurant while I pursued my degree in Visual Communication. I followed in step to becoming a food runner, expediter, bar back, server, cocktail and finally a bartender. He was dedicated to his craft and always set the bar high.

What are your favorite spots for a cocktail?

When I lived in North Park, I liked Urban Solace, West Coast Tavern and Blind Lady Ale House. Now that I live closer to work, I like Starlight for a great mule, Fathom for a brew and a sausage on a Shelter Island walk, Tom Ham's Lighthouse for a great local view, beer and food. I also loved to catch a sunset at Shades in OB. I'm excited to see what they do next with that place.

What do you do in your spare time when you're not creating cocktails? I love being outside. I love hiking, camping, snowboarding, river running, gardening and cooking. I love to explore! What's next for you?

Hard to tell. I love my job, this industry, the people I share it with and the family I'm so blessed to be a part of. I'm also intrigued with green building. I believe that the spaces we occupy play an intricate part of our own life experiences. My husband also has the "Industry Sickness" and would like to open his own place at some point. Right now we have a two-year-old daughter at home and are running the river of life. At the moment, our passion is getting her out and showing her what an amazing world we live in.

Bali Hai Restaurant

2230 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island. (619) 222-1181 or

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