Story by Janice Crowl
Photo by Jack Wolford
Kawaihae residents had long known it as the Blue Dolphin; they went mainly for the music, and when the place closed a few years ago, there wasn’t much else for people in the tiny Big Island community to do. Enter Bennett and Delphina Dorrance, who took over in 2008, changed the name, added a spa and reinvented the menu. Now Blue Dragon Restaurant & Spa is the go-to spot for music and dining. It’s warm and convivial, and the best part is there’s no roof over the dance floor and dining area to block your view of the moon rising over the palms.
The menu showcases what’s growing on the restaurant’s organic farm in Hawi, which “makes it easy, because when something is that fresh you don’t have to season it that much,” says chef Noah Hester. Noah and mixologist/bartender Brandon Winslow create food and beverage pairings with a synergy born of long friendship. “I’m from Ahualoa and Noah’s from Puako,” says Brandon. “We’ve known each other since the third grade. We text each other when we know what ingredients are coming in, and I’m already mixing drinks in my head before I make my way to work.” Every night, Brandon fashions cocktails to pair with the food as well as the music, such as his local-style Brazilian caipirinha with rum, crushed mint, cilantro and cucumber— best, he says, for sipping to jazz. The Green Dragon is his mojito with Rangpur lime gin, fresh-squeezed limeade, crushed sugar cane and mint (to go with salsa, of course).
Delphina wanted to keep the music alive—she’s a musician with the Kamuela Philharmonic—hence the nightly live music in the outdoor “Musiquarium.” On Thursdays it’s Hawaiian (slack key master and Kohala resident John Keawe is a regular). Fridays and Saturdays feature a variety— rock, pop, funk, reggae, salsa. Sunday is for jazz and big band, like the thirteen-piece Olliephonic Horns led by retired studio musician Ollie Mitchell.
Then there’s the spa, where you can get some body work before you shake your body. “The idea is to feed your soul,” says Bennett. “The perfect day is that you go upstairs to the spa and have a massage, then go downstairs and have a healthy dinner that’s local and organic, and enjoy live music in the open air under the palm trees, moon and stars.”