Merriman’s in Waimea on the Big Island

Anyone who places a large sign in his restaurant with the following quote is a hero of mine:

“My heroes have always been farmers.” – Peter Merman

IMG_7472That’s exactly what you’ll find at the Merriman’s in Waimea on the Big Island. Restaurateur and Hawaii regional cuisine expert Peter Merriman’s establishments are well known and loved and for good reason. Merriman is known as the original locavore and for more than 25 years he has been a champion for local farmers, fisherman and ranchers on the Hawaiian Islands.

My respect for farmers is immense. In the Midwest, we suffered from severe droughts in 2012 and 2013. This spring, we are dealing with the wettest year since 1871 with three to five inches of rain predicted for today alone and the threat of severe flooding. Today, we may break a 60-year record for rainfall in a 24-hour period. Farmers are always dealing with conditions completely beyond their control. And yet, they go on.

Which brings me back to Peter Merriman and the concept of Hawaii regional cuisine. Interestingly, I recently learned that Merriman got his start at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, a place of which I am extremely fond of and have raved about in earlier posts. The story goes that Merriman arrived from the mainland with one suitcase, plans to stay for a short time and so he took a job at the Mauna Lani as a cook. Two years later, he was named executive chef and the rest is history.

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In 1988, Merriman’s opened up as his signature restaurant in Waimea. Waimea is a charming, upcountry town on the Big Island. The overwhelmingly positive and well deserved reviews came flowing in soon after Merriman’s opened from the New York Times, San Francisco magazine and on and on and on. He was one of the chefs who put Hawaii on the map as a foodie destination. Over the years, he expanded to other islands, including two additional locations for Merriman’s Kapalua on Maui and Merriman’s Fishhouse in Poipu on Kauai. In 2014, he opened a new venture called Monkeypod Kitchen, with locations on Maui and Oahu, which I previously wrote about here.

A hula dancing waitress and live Hawaiian music for lunch on a Friday? Yes, please!

A hula dancing waitress and live Hawaiian music for lunch on a Friday? Yes, please!

This past March we visited the original Merriman’s in Waimea for lunch on a Friday and it was as wonderful as ever. The minute we were seated our waitress told us that we were in luck as they have live music on Fridays. It got even better from there: One of the waitresses graced the dining room with a hula to accompany the music—a true Hawaiian dining experience.

 

IMG_7478Looking out the window from our table, you could see the kitchen garden. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. We were amused by a father and his elementary school-aged daughter seated at the table next to us. She asked to be excused for a minute and stepped outside for a quick walk through the garden. We saw her sneak a leaf of lettuce for an appetizer. If that isn’t a sign that the produce is fresh and tastes like all produce should, then I don’t know what is. She also ordered a salad for her lunch—exactly how a child’s taste buds should be.

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The website description of the menu explains it all: “The menu at the original Merriman’s in Waimea starts on the farm, reflecting Hawaii’s rich flavors that are alive with freshness. Drawing inspiration from the surrounding green pastures, cattle ranches and fields, Merriman’s Waimea is the true Home of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Featuring a menu of grass fed cattle, fish caught off the Kohala Coast and farm fresh produce from neighboring Nakano and Hirabara Farms, each quality ingredient used at Merriman’s celebrates Hawaii’s rich bounty of flavors, harvested at the peak of perfection. A truly Hawaii Regional menu, experience signature dishes that originated right here such as Merriman’s Classic Wok Charred Ahi and Kahua Ranch Naturally Raised Lamb.”

IMG_2689If in doubt, order the wok charred ahi. But, be sure to start with one of his signature salads. It doesn’t get fresher. To add to the appeal, he also offers a wonderful wine list. Merriman’s is consistently, as the Hawaiians would say, “ono.”

 

 

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Torch lighting ceremony at Black Rock on Maui

Each evening in Ka’anapali, as the sun begins to set in the ocean, a torch lighting ceremony followed by a cliff diver’s plunge into the sea is held at Black Rock on Maui.

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The beach near Black Rock is directly facing the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, which conveniently offers the Cliff Dive Grill and Mai Tai Bar–a great place to watch the traditional ceremony and enjoy a tropical beverage or appetizer (pupus as they are called on the Hawaiian Islands). The beach is spectacular and the sunsets here do not disappoint. This area is also known for excellent snorkeling.

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The sunsets from this viewpoint paint the sky with brilliant shades of pinks and blues. Black Rock, formed by a volcanic eruption in ancient times, was considered by ancient Hawaiians as the sacred place where souls would leave the earth and join with ancestors.

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Yes, the daily cliff dive ceremony is a tourist gimmick and yes, you should go. Watching the cliff diver reach the summit as he casts his lei into the sea and takes a magnificent dive into the sea is well worth a stop.

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Market Fresh Bistro in Makawao, Upcountry Maui

IMG_0964Makawao in Upcountry Maui feels laid-back and trendy at the same time. This is the town of cowboys, galleries, interesting shops. It’s a great place to wander for a morning or an afternoon. The people seemed genuine and friendly and when it was time to look for a lunch spot, we picked a place with a generic-sounding name—Market Fresh Bistro.
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Located at 3620 Baldwin Avenue, tucked in an area behind the Viewpoints Gallery and a charming walkway and courtyard, this bistro was one of our favorite finds during a week in Maui.
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The food here is organic, unbelievably fresh and prepared simply, ensuing that the ingredients shine. When we ordered a salad for our lunch, we sat in awe as we watched the kitchen staff carrying in the fresh greens and other produce for our meal. The freshness of the local produce and fish we enjoyed that day were unbelievable.
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The soup was interesting and flavorful. With fresh fish as an option to top a salad, the lunch felt healthy, fresh and light.  The presentation was beautiful. I only wish I could prepare a salad so beautiful at home.
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Our service was friendly and casual. We enjoyed a glass of wine and a leisurely pace as we admired the creations being made before our eyes in the open kitchen.
Market Fresh Bistro’s garden-fresh ingredients left us longing for something similar in our neighborhood at home.  If only we could get produce this fresh year-round.
This bistro is locavore heaven. Highly recommend. Next time we’ll try the dessert.

Monkeypod Kitchen – Wailea, Maui

Since it’s almost Friday and much of the country is stuck in Polar Vortex 2, it seems like an appropriate time to profess my love for Monkeypod Kitchen on Maui. Oh, how I wish there was a Monkeypod Kitchen just down the street. And that it was 78 and sunny with a light tropical breeze.

Peter Merriman is one Hawaii’s most recognized, celebrated and well-known restaurateurs. Credited for developing the locavore concept in food, his work to elevate the farm to table concept is a big contribution to Hawaiian cuisine–and to locally grown, harvested and simply prepared foods all over the world.

After a tip from a server at Merriman’s in Kapalua, we made a beeline to Monkeypod Kitchen to burn off that awkward time when you have to check out of your hotel (weeping) and it’s much too early to sit at the airport in Hawaii when it’s so incredibly gorgeous everywhere you look.

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So, off to Monkeypod Kitchen for happy hour we went. Wow. This place puts the happy into happy hour.

IMG_1204For starters, there is the Monkeypod Mai Tai. Old Lahaina light rum, Maui dark rum, lime, orgeat, orange curacao, honey-lilikoi foam. Did I mention honey-lilikoi foam? Unbelievable. Luckily, I wasn’t driving to the airport. The handcrafted culinary cocktails are imaginative, reflective of the Hawaiian setting and yummy. What’s not to like?

Then, there are the appetizers and salads. The pumpkin patch ravioli was delicious and more than enough to share.IMG_1208

The wood fired pizzas were hand tossed and with a variety to choose from such as Hamakua wild mushroom & truffle, roasted butternut squash, bourgeois with Big Island lobster, mushrooms, white sauce, parmesan, thyme. To top it off, they had live Hawaiian music and a beer list featuring high-quality brews from top breweries and microbreweries from around the world. Although I am not a beer expert or a beer drinker, I know quality and selection when I see it.

Gotta go! Time to search for some flights to Hawaii.IMG_1211