Pau Hana Patrol: Blue Marlin Bar
BY MINDY PENNYBACKER / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Blue Marlin Bar, which opened its doors in July, has become a welcome fixture on Seaside Avenue, with sleek nautical decor; a low-key, friendly atmosphere; and a killer happy hour menu featuring fresh seafood and good drinks at prices that avoid sticker shock. In an airily refurbished space that formerly housed Matteo’s Restaurant, Blue Marlin encompasses a trio of establishments — the bar, the adjacent Blue Marlin Restaurant and a new Parbur 364 snack bar —owned by George’s Corp., a Hawaii outpost of Japan’s Toridoll Group.
BLUE MARLIN BAR
364 Seaside Ave.
Blue Marlin’s long, slender lanai resembles the deck of a ship, with white metal railings, dark wood flooring and a canvas awning to unfurl against the rain. Overlooking Seaside Avenue from atop a 5-foot-high lava rock wall, it gets some traffic noise and fumes during rush hour, but the tour buses are pleasantly offset by views of plants and trees. Wood-framed glass doors between lanai and barroom are left open, admitting natural light and salty sea breezes to whet the appetite.
Indoors, a marlin-shaped menu board hangs above the gleaming, wraparound rectangular bar with seats along three sides. Wood shelves display an impressive wine collection. Distressed solid wood flooring and tabletops, and white paint brushed on gray walls, share the weathered, nautical look of fish joints from Cape Cod to California. Wood banquettes with navy or gray pillows evoke the seats along the rail of a yacht, while chic, curved metal chairs add a Modernist touch. The ambience: Mister Roberts meets South Beach.
With its open-air design and ceiling fans, the interior stays pleasantly cool without air conditioning, even at the end of a warm, muggy, Kona day.
Blue Marlin charges $6 at happy hour for select mixed tropical drinks. The Seaside Pineapple, a tall combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth and grainy pineapple juice, proved delicious: smooth and not too sweet. My companion, a mai tai maven, endorsed this version made with coconut vodka, spiced and dark rum, Triple Sec and lime juice: “Very coconut on the bottom, dark and stormy on top.”
A friendly bartender in anchor earrings recommended the Beach Bubble: peach vodka, Moscato d’Asti, mango puree and pineapple juice. I preferred the House Chardonnay ($5) from Rawson’s Retreat, a crisp cut above your typical house white. My companion enjoyed his draft Aloha Lager ($4) with the crispy fried food.
Chefs Masa (he goes by one name) and Ed Kwok offer nine tapas fusing Asian, Latin and Hawaii flavors. Local ingredients are emphasized.
We loved the Spicy Ahi Nachos, fresh ahi poke heaped on four big round chips with aioli, sprouts and tomatoes. Another hit, the Kakiage Tower, was a crunchy, creative tempura of shredded Maui onion and sweet potato studded with sweet bay scallops.
Although it arrived on a mountain of excellent fries with a splendid curried mayo, the Fish & Chips disappointed, with only two small fillets of deep-fried kajiki (marlin).
The only outright failure was the Braised Short Rib Melt, in which the boneless short ribs had literally melted into the dark, soupy sauce topped with cheese. “I can’t find the meat,” my companion exclaimed.
The ceviche of Kauai shrimp — ultrafresh, tender, ghostly white — with a handful of bay scallops was perfectly raw-cooked, in a lime, diced tomato and cilantro sauce reminiscent of lomi salmon. The satisfying Grilled Romaine Salad with bacon and tomatoes in a Caesar salad dressing — a sort of deconstructed BLT — was chopped tableside by a server with kitchen shears.
We visited twice, and our advice is to arrive before 5, or plan to be patient. The dinner rush competes with the last 60 minutes of happy hour, and the casual service, while always pleasant, can be uneven. This is a great place for groups: On a busy Monday a local ohana of 12 was efficiently seated and rapidly served, while couples wandered in, ungreeted and ignored for minutes on end.
For us the comfy seating, relaxed atmosphere, and low prices for excellent food and drink outweighed such minor disconnects.
Ultimately it’s a calm, unfussy place that gives you breathing space and lets you feel like a regular. Blue Marlin, we’ll be back.