Review: Merriman's Restaurant, Big Island
Located about an hour inland from Kona and up in the mountains, Merriman’s Restaurant is a dining destination for just about any foodie. One of the original founders of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, Peter Merriman, changed the face of food on Hawaii as we know it back in 1991. Along with Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong, Sam Choy, George Mavrothalassitis and a host of others, this group of young, relatively unknown chefs made a commitment to improve the food of Hawaii into something more recognizable than the veritable Spam. They dedicated themselves to the use of locally grown produce and island raised protein as much as they could. This group has developed strong bonds with local farmers and ranchers to use the freshest ingredients possible.
Merriman’s is oddly located in a small strip mall unlike many of the “destination” dining options which are either freestanding or, more likely, in one of the many resorts on the Kona coast. The location does, however, position the restaurant more strategically closer to Kahua Ranch, Hufford Farm and Honopua Family Farm.
The Kalua Pig & Sweet Onion Quesadilla is a take on the classic Mexican dish. The smoky and salty pork is paired perfectly with the sweetness from the caramelized onions. It is served with a Kimchee and Mango Sweet Chili dipping sauce. The sweetness of the mango in the dipping sauce helps to cut the saltiness of the kalua pork, while the kimchee and chili give it a spicy little kick.
The Organic Waimea Greens Salad is a mixture of locally grown baby greens with Kula onions from Maui and Chevre from Mauna Kea in a balsamic vinaigrette. The greens are vibrant in their color and are lightly dressed to retain the texture and subtle flavors of the greens. With these types of top quality ingredients, drowning them in dressing would be a shame. The chevre is soft, creamy and slightly salty, the perfect accompaniment to the salad.
The Kahua Ranch Lamb are several lamb chops cooked to perfection. Charred on the outside to form a nice crust, the inside is a perfect rare-medium rare. The lamb chops are not at all gamey and have a wonderful rich lamb flavor.
The Merriman’s Mixed Plate is a combination of the Ponzu Mahi Mahi, Filet Medallion and the signature Wok Charred Ahi. The Mahi Mahi is marinated in ponzu giving it a nice citrus undertone while allowing the flavor of the fish to come out. Paired with grilled shiitaki mushrooms, hearts of palm and an onion relish this dish is a winner. Several medallions of filet were presented with sautéed mushrooms and an onion jam. The filet was seared on the outside and cooked to a nice medium rare on the inside. The filet was full of flavor and the earthiness of the mushrooms only enhanced the rich beef flavor. The Wok Charred Ahi is simply prepared. It is lightly seared on the outside and rare as only top grade sashimi could be on the inside. The searing brought out a slight nuttiness in the fish as well as bringing out some of the inherent oil in the fish to give it a deep, intense flavor. This is the ultimate surf and turf combination.
The Coconut Crème Brulee is a Hawaiian take on the classic French dessert. The sweetness of the coconut certainly is brought out in this dish, but is not overly sweet. The crème brulee was a looser custard, unlike some places where the crème brulee is really firm. The crème brulee was top with a glassy burnt sugar topping crust.
This is a great restaurant for special occasions and is a great representation of what Hawaii Regional Cuisine is all about.
65-1227 Opelo Road
Kamuela, HI 96743
Another great review. Unfortunately, we have yet to dine there, but I have heard nothing but good. Most glowing review was from Alan Wong, who was miffed, that we did not fit Merriman's into our last trip to the Big Island. When a great chef speaks, I listen. Gotta' get back to the Islands! Oops, starting to sound like Jimmy Buffet or James Taylor here...