If you’re travelling to Hawaii and you haven’t heard about Merriman’s, consider this your wake up call. The owner, Peter Merriman, is one of twelve chefs who revolutionized fine dining on the Hawaiian Islands in the early 1990s by utilizing high quality, locally grown ingredients in innovative ways, a movement that became known as Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. Think fresh, flaky fish, tender steak, creative appetizers, and out-of-this-world desserts, and you’ll begin to understand what Merriman’s is about.
These days, you’d never know that Hawaiian restaurants once depended almost solely on shipped goods, some of it frozen, from out of state. Thanks to Peter Merriman and the other chefs who encouraged local farmers and ranchers to diversify their crops in order to serve fresher food of a better quality, a new precedent was set on the islands for sustainability. By continually experimenting and improving on his philosophy, Merriman was to able establish himself as one of the premier names in the world of fine dining in Hawaii with four locations on Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island.
Once upon a time, “Hawaiian food” was synonymous with poi, kālua pig, or pineapple on pizza, but these days the islands feature exciting dishes like Sesame Crusted Opah, Chili Pepper Shrimp Scampi, Coconut Seafood Medley, and Crab Stuffed Kona Lobster. All of these dishes adhere to Peter’s pledge to use at least 90% locally grown and caught products, especially those harvested using sustainable methods. He forced people to rethink Hawaiian food offering boundless creativity and taste while also supporting the local economy.
Tucked into a quaint outdoor mall with a view of lush fields and rolling hills behind it, the Kauai Merriman’s in Poipu is magnificent with an elegant white exterior and a sweeping staircase entry. On the ground floor is a casual bar and café while the more formal dining room is upstairs with the best tables along the back veranda, where you’re treated to a cool breeze and breathtaking view of the sun setting over the ocean.
Opened in 2009, The Fish House is Merriman’s newest “fine-dining restaurant” (he opened a gastro-pub called Monkeypod Kitchen on Maui more recently), and its focus is seafood. The menu changes daily to reflect the day’s fresh catch with a variety of fish, such as ahi, opah, ono, monchong, and mahi mahi featured. If it’s on the Merriman’s menu rest assured it’s the freshest with certain items even identifying the boat and fisherman that made the catch.
Our server was extremely knowledgeable providing details about every dish on the menu. We took his recommendation and ordered the sashimi trio as a starter – an assortment of three poke dishes: dark red ahi with sesame seeds, lobster and avocado, and ono with coconut and jalapeño, all amazingly flavorful. We also fell for the lobster mac and cheese, perhaps the star appetizer, rich and creamy with chevre goat cheese and succulent chunks of lobster showcasing the Merriman’s style. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better mac and cheese. The entrees, a macadamia crusted monchong and a perfect swordfish reminded us of how deliciously meaty the Pacific fish are compared to their Atlantic Ocean counterparts. A word to the wise: save room for dessert. The chocolate purse was a great fix for a chocolate craving, and the malasadas (traditional Portuguese treats similar to small doughnuts) were great but I fell in love with the banana lumpia, three fried bananas with vanilla ice cream, and caramel and chocolate dipping sauces
With food this fresh we wanted to return again the next day to watch the sunset from the veranda. And looking out at the beautiful island I was thankful to Peter Merriman, a man who genuinely cares about the food he serves and the land in which he lives.
Kukui’ula Village Mall
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Street, No. G-149
Koloa, Kauai, Hawaii 96756
Phone: (808) 742-8385
Downstairs Café Phone: (808) 742-2856
Open every night for dinner at 5:30pm
Downstairs café open daily from 11:00am