Kauai Trip Report
Just returned from Kauai (and Oahu) so thought I'd report on what/where we ate and make some recommendations.
Our best dinner on Kauai was our first, at Josselin's in Poipu (we stayed on the south side of the island). Though the atmosphere was a bit sterile, the food was interesting and flavorful, the presentations appealing, and the staff enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the menu. We tried the deconstructed ahi sushi, shrimp dumplings with eggplant puree and yogurt (an Asian/Middle Easter mash-up that worked), the kale salad with an oxtail fritter (this was tasty and beautifully presented), and the butterfish. No misses among the dishes.
In contrast, I was very disappointed by Red Salt after reading positive things both here and in the NY TImes. The food, service, and space all fell far short of a fine dining experience, despite its efforts to do so on all fronts. Worst by far was my dish of seven-spice coated ahi with serrano ham, edamame risotto, and a "coconut cloud." I'd asked whether there were any vegetables on the plate and been told there was the edamame in the risotto. There turned out to be a chunk of bok choy that was so hard at the bottom that I couldn't eat that end, and the rest was buried in a heavy coating of thickened coconut milk. The ahi tasted unseasoned and was wrapped in a fairly thick and chewy slice of meat that definitely wasn't serrano ham. It's rare that I spend $36 on an entree, and this one certainly wasn't worth it.
Our other dinners were at Merriman's in Poipu and Bar Acuda in Hanalei. The latter was the better of the two, with decent wine and fairly good but overpriced tapas ($13 for a small dish of beets with a little goat cheese seems excessive even in a tourist area). The food at Merriman's was okay but almost exactly what I'd seen on the menu at its Big Island location six years ago. The place seemed indifferent overall, from the greeting at the door (almost nonexistent, and I overheard someone in another group comment about the person at the check-in desk, "She didn't seem too happy to see us.") to the glasses left on chairs at the empty tables around us. Our server was one positive note, although we were unpleasantly surprised, after asking her about the nightly ice cream and sorbet flavors, to see a $1.25 supplement for one of the flavors--pineapple! This seems petty when added to a $7 charge for two unadorned scoops of sorbet.
Our favorite lunch spot was the Mermaid Cafe in Kapaa, a simple window with a few tables out front. Both the ahi wrap and the tofu satay wrap were tasty, and everyone there seemed happy to be there. Breakfast at the Kalaheo Cafe was also good.
Also enjoyed going to the St. Regis in Princeville for a sunset drink. At least this time of year, the sunset and views are much better than those elsewhere on the island and the staff there make the experience festive.
I have been a fan of Jean-Marie Josselin's, for many years now. I fondly recall two other endeavors of his. Glad that you enjoyed it.
As for Merriman's, that is disturbing. Too often, the FOH sets the tone for the meal, and is often overlooked. Going back to Josselin's A Pacific Cafe, the FOH was excellent. Though our hostess was maybe 18, she was great, and very, very perceptive. She set the tone, and it was wonderful.
Maybe Chef Merriman needs to shake up the staff on Kaua`i, and welcome the diners.
I agree about the "supplement" for the desserts. Up the prices for all, or just forget it. It's like flying today - $5 for this, $5 for that, and then $1.50 for something else. My feeling is "do not nickel and dime me to death." I understand supplements, like going with the Foie Gras, vs the Beet Salad, but give me a break. What you outline would offend me greatly, whether I ordered it, or not. Peter Merriman has a great reputation, at least with me, and that is just not something that I would embrace.
Mahalo for the post,
Interesting thoughts on Red Salt, for some reason the accolades I've read seem to focus on breakfast? Maybe I am misremembering.
I have Merriman's on Kauai on my list for next year when we visit (we've never been to any of them) but now I'm hesitant, though things can change in 9 months (in either direction, up or down).
Wow..sorry to hear about your experience at Red Salt.
That is not the norm...I'll be back in September and I'll check it out on all 3 courses.
Of all the islands, I find Kauai the low end of the food chain of goodness but makes up for in Aloha spirit.
Had my wedding at the Grand Hyatt, so I have a soft spot for Kauai but it is no HNL on the food scene.
I would let Merriman's know about the indifferent greeting from the hostess..sets the tone and a resto of this caliber has no excuse for this type of behavior.
Locals go to Josselins A LOT. Jean Marie and company have always catered to both locals and visitors alike. Jean Marie Josselin is behind the stove almost every night..that counts for a lot. Merriman's is high priced, always seems to have an "attitude", and Peter Merriman is nowhere to be seen. You can see where my sentiments and the those of a lot of Kauai residents lie.
if you are looking for more nicer restaurants, id say some local favorites are definitely kintaros, bull shed, dukes, keokis and yum cha off the top of my head. i dont think all of them deserve their reputation, but they are all fairly popular amongst my friends and i find myself going there more than other places.
ive never heard of a dessert supplement! how strange. i think merriman's over here just never really found its groove. i only went upstairs once and it was okay, but have been to the downstairs cafe many times- my last time was surprisingly REALLY good. peter merriman used to come more frequently (maybe once or twice a month) but i havent heard that hes been around recently, but who knows?
josselins is a definite favorite in my book. i actually love red salt and have only been there for dinner. of the two, id definitely choose josselins because i think it is more interesting and has more value. red salt is really expensive, almost unnecessarily so. but i have had really, really good meals at red salt. maybe it was just a bad dish?