In the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession to make before I deliver this review: I work for Peter Merriman. So does Dave, my boyfriend and partner in culinary crime. On the weekends, when I’m not busy banging on this keyboard and he’s free from raising and lowering the sails on the boat he works on, we fill our pockets by slinging the tasty creations of Executive Chef Merriman at the Hula Grill.
But Merriman is a man who wears many hats, and besides being one of the pioneers of a food movement commonly known as Hawaiian regional cuisine and playing top chef at Hula, he reigns the kitchen of his own independently operated Merriman’s restaurant, with locations on the Big Island, this lovely rock we call home and another soon to materialize on Kauai.
The first thing that must be mentioned about this restaurant is the view. Merriman’s is perched perfectly on the south tip of Kapalua Bay. The far ends of both Lanai and Molokai—and a vast expanse of land, sea and sky in between—are visible from nearly every table. The sun sets dramatically in front of the dining room as if it’s been privately contracted for a solo show, but true to our usual form, Dave and I showed up ten minutes too late to watch the spectacle. The after show, however, was more than impressive; we enjoyed it from the lanai—which stretches in front of the restaurant to the tip of the point—Cosmopolitans in hand.
When darkness set in, we took our seats at a large, comfortable table for two and were presented with menus.
The wine list at Merriman’s could easily impress a Trump or a Hilton, but we bypassed the bottles that cost more than my car and ordered the Green and Red Zinfandel, a personal favorite of mine that was priced comfortably within our budget.
Not wanting to make a mistake and miss an amazing appetizer, we decided to go with the pupu taster, which came with a quartet of delicious items. We started with the Kalua pig and Maui onion quesadilla, which was savory and crispy and did wonders to whet my appetite. Moving clockwise around the platter, we dove into a white shrimp poke that was served with avocado, papaya and a perfect little pancetta chip before moving on to the lamb spring roll that came atop a sweet sauce infused with Maui Gold pineapple. Finally we came to the homemade chorizo and Keahole clams, a spicy dish with a broth that was born to be sopped up with warm bread and was my favorite dish by far.
I had called dibs on the Kapalua Farm beet and tomato salad when we opened up our menus and I was far from disappointed by the rich, red beets, the abundance of feta cheese and sweet, but light, sherry and honey vinaigrette. But I’ll admit I was a little jealous of Dave’s salad. In my rush to lay claim to what I was positive was the best salad on the menu, I’d completely overlooked the organic tomato and Kula onion salad, which came without greens but did arrive garnished with fresh basil and fried (fried!) Surfing Goat feta.
For our entrees Dave chose the lobster, to the surprise of absolutely no one, and I ordered a steak. His lobster, plucked straight out of Big Island waters, came butter poached out of the shell atop a tasty little corn cake and sautéed mushrooms. The result was a rich, sweet medley of flavors that sets Merriman’s lobster apart from the pack. My steak, a ribeye, came out perfectly medium rare topped with crumbled bleu cheese and a creamy potato and broccoli gratin. It was rich, tender and enormous; a perfect meat-and-potatoes meal that was more than satisfying.
We finished dinner in the usual way, with coffee and chocolate. Two chip shots were ordered to go with the chocolate purse, a flakey chocolate phyllo shell filled with warm, creamy bittersweet chocolate. It came with house made vanilla bean ice cream but I was so impressed that Merriman’s makes their own rocky road, among several other flavors, that I ordered it on the side. A girl can never have too many flavors of ice cream. MTW