There are few things I love more than good food. My quest for it has led me to many a white linen table at some of the finest restaurants on Maui. But it’s a love that takes its toll on my pocketbook—and there are only so many little black dresses a girl can own—so I keep an eye out for more economical and casual dining alternatives.
Blue Marlin has elements of two sometimes opposing worlds. It offers the harbor views, consistent service and impressive plate presentations of an establishment that regularly caters to visitors. But it also delivers a down-home appeal of bountiful servings, delectable yet unpretentious cuisine, and the easygoing ambience of its bar area.
Located on the lower level of the Harbor Shops, Blue Marlin looks directly out onto Ma`alaea Harbor and the bay beyond. The open-air dining room is all dark wood, lots of hanging green plants, colorful glass fishing floats, and various fishing photos displayed like family snapshots. Behind the elevated horseshoe-shaped bar is a rock wall with miniature waterfalls sprouting fresh ferns.
Tristan Rodrigues, the bartender, possesses the easy charm and confident reverence you’d expect from an old-school Waikiki beach boy. His bar is generally packed all day with mostly tourists in from boat tours during the day, and a mainly local clientele at night.
When I sat down, I noticed the earthy Upcountry couple on my left devouring the shrimp and chips ($13.95) and peel ‘n eat shrimp ($11.95), with garlic bread and Coors Light on draft. The three local guys on my right, who had just finished a surf session on the Westside on their day off, sat with Heinekens, sake ponzu oyster shooters and a half-pound of poke ($7.50).
At Rodrigues’ suggestion, I sampled an array of pupu and entrees and shared with my neighbors.
For the past three years, the head of the kitchen `ohana has been chef Laynie “Babycakes” Dougher, an MCC Culinary Institute graduate and former opening chef de cuisine for Marco’s and Sam Choy’s restaurants. She says her cooking philosophy is to “keep it simple,” focus on flavor and to create a family-style atmosphere in the back. As in her own kitchen at home, nothing goes out to the front of the house if it doesn’t taste good.
Blue Marlin get their fish from one of four of the main sporting boats out of the Ma`alaea Harbor. The fish are hand-carried through the front of the restaurant, providing a real showstopper for diners. Along with her sous chef, Dougher comes up with the specials, depending on what the fisherman bring in.
The day I visited, the fish special was a sauteed mahi mahi with Jack Daniels shitake cream sauce. It was a surprisingly subtle and elegant dish, given its rich components.
“Mmm!” said the Westside surfers to my right. “This is ono! What is ‘shitake?’ The mushroom, yeah?”
Blue Marlin’s most popular dish is their fish and chips ($12.95) with minted pineapple remoulade and malt vinegar. And it was tasty. But so was the 24-ounce rack of the most tender, succulent, fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth pork ribs ($23.95). I had the couple to my left try it out.
“My ribs never come out that way,” he said.
“That’s because you have no patience,” she said.
The crab cakes ($10.95) were perfectly balanced, and not too rich, with a light honey Dijon sauce for dipping. I could eat a bucketful of them. Again, I shared with my bohemian friends to the left.
“That’s the best crab cake ever,” she said.
“Instead of all that froufrou breading and stuff,” he said, “there’s a lot of crab in there.”
“If I could I would bring all my friends down here three-to-four times a week and spend all our money,” said one of the surfers. His friends heartily agreed. MTW