by John Cox
Orcas Hotel co-owner and operator
When Julia and I bought the Orcas Hotel at the beginning of 2020 we never could have imagined how the next two years would unfold.
As chefs, the restaurant space was one of the most exciting aspects of renovating the historic property. The world had very different plans. A two-year-old son and pandemic later, we are just now finally opening our dream restaurant, Norbu’s.
Actually, to be fair, neither of us dreamed of opening a Hawaiian-inspired restaurant. It was a concept that gradually presented itself over time. Glimpses could already be seen when we arrived, in the tropical fish-stained glass panels and from the carved mahogany pineapples adorning the china cabinet (pieces that have been in place for more than 50 years). Through offering nightly chef specials we came to realize that the local community craved fresh seafood and tropical flavors. From our sushi Saturdays to Thai curry specials, some of our most popular offerings were recipes we learned while working in Hawaii.
While we may have never imagined opening a Hawaiian restaurant, each of our backgrounds somehow led us here. My first chef position was in Hana, Maui, overseeing the then-sister property of Post Ranch Inn where I had worked previously. I spent six years working on Eastern Maui and learning about Hawaiian food and culture. Chef Quinn Norbu Jamyang Thompson grew up in Honolulu and has fond memories of both Hawaiian food and surfing. Even Kyle Odell, our master mixologist, can trace his roots back to Hawaii, where his parents met and started their family. Chef Quinn, Kyle and I have been cooking together for 15 years. We all met working at Casanova and La Bicyclette in Carmel-by-the-sea.
Perhaps most importantly, the last two years have reminded us that we just want a restaurant where we can have fun. We have spent our careers in fine dining restaurants and five-star resorts; at this point, all we want is to make great food and drinks and share it with friends.
Just because we want to keep things fun and casual doesn’t mean we don’t take our craft seriously. Each week we fly our sushi-grade fish direct from Honolulu Fish Market, where we have been working with the same buyer for 15 years.
Our opening weekend for Norbu’s was July 4th. We are now offering online reservations and limited walk-ins Friday through Monday. (With live Jazz each Monday). You can book a table online by visiting www.orcashotel.com. The cafe is still open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, but we are taking a quick summer reprieve from chef specials while we focus on our restaurant launch.