PlDolphin, Restaurant, Hanalei, Kauai, USA
Housed in one of the few older buildings in Hanalei, Dolphin is a combination of restaurant, tavern and sushi bar. Fame and legend – both expressions are connected to this fish restaurant — which feels like it’s almost at the end of the world. If all ends of the earth are as beautiful as Hanalei Bay, I would travel more. Jonathan Deckter, who strongly encouraged me to go to Dolphin, was completely right about it. It is a great place: rather easy, half open-air, since it’s never cold at Kauai – and a half-open kitchen, plus some outside seating on the surrounding grass.
Because it’s so popular, they don’t take reservations. You have to be willing to wait, perhaps even up to an hour to get a table. Many people seem to have no issue with it; perhaps a result of the calmness you experience during any stay on this green paradisiac island. I must say that it was worth every minute of the wait — our eating experience was that good.
Dolphin is a combination of a fish market and restaurant. You can both buy and eat fish there. Seafood and fish both come from the daily catches of local fishermen. There is a description on Dolphin’s website which I am happy to confirm: Each variety (of fish) has its own unique and delicious flavor and the master Chefs at The Dolphin Restaurant feel the best way to experience these tastes in to refrain from “drowning” the fish in sauce, but rather to prepare it simply and deliciously broiled.
Considering that the menu is rather large, I wonder how much fish they end up throwing away each day. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for relatively high prices. I was wrong: not everything on the menu is available every day – the daily dishes depend on which fish is fresh caught. Out of the eight to ten fish on the menu, they had only four. Out of these four I ordered Monchong, which is actually the Japanese name for this fish. The Hawaiian name is Mukau and for those among us who know something about fish: it is Sickle Pomfret.
The fish was perfect! Broiled hot, spicy and nicely crisp on the outside, not too moist inside but also not dry – the perfect consistency. Amazing taste. Given the rustic preparation, it’s certainly one of the best fish I have ever had in my life. You’d probably need to prepare fish for many years to get such a “feeling” for the right temperature, timing and quality of simple but pure flavoring.
Hard to top! I risked ordering one of the most boring and mostly chintzy seafood appetizers: calamari.
Deep fried, oil dripping, and taste-wise questionable; they could so often be onion instead of calamari. But the calamari at Dolphin are truly remarkable. No rings! The whole and real body of a calamari, fried indeed, but in a great way: really crispy but not fatty! The meat is tender, not like fishy chewing gum. And it’s cut in small slices — only after baking — allowing you to serve it as finger food, too. A delicious starter! This is exactly what I like so much! You have a very common and easy dish – thousands of times tasted and eaten – so you more or less know what to expect! If this expectation can be topped – great. All the more so if the difference is so huge, as in this case. I am happy to say, this was my best fried calamari ever!
Aside from the freshest fish, Dolphin has an impressive sushi selection. Because of the amazing freshness and quality of all of the fish, the sushi, sashimi and all familiar preparations are outstanding. It is a very American style of preparation; portions are rather large and certain dishes contain something creamy, turning a light dish to something really heavy. It is all still very tasty — following the comments of my family.
If you don’t like fish – which would be a shame, given the outstanding quality – you can also get beef and some chicken, too. Given the number of chickens you see everywhere in Hawaii – even at the parking lot of an airport – you aren’t surprised at all to see chicken on the menu. But beef? This cannot be fresh or local. But I am wrong, as I am so often: one of the biggest farms in the USA, Parker Farm, is location on the Big Island of Hawaii – isn’t this surprising? Currently, they count over 25,000 heads of cattle. What an amazing and also frightening number of animals. So – of course you can order steak at Dolphin, too – even though Parker is on Big Island and not on Kauai! This said, I would be not surprised if Dolphin sources its meat on Kauai, by the way!
Do not expect anything special for wine. Dolphin’s offers some bottles which are not interesting. It is better to go with some regional beer or their cocktails which are pretty rich in alcohol.
As much as I dislike conceding a point to Jonathan, I happily admit he was very right to recommend Dolphin. So do I! It is a cool, nice and friendly place – a bit too expensive in the end!
Here you find anything further about Dolphin: http://www.hanaleidolphin.com/