I always thought the tropics would have the same weather year-round. It wouldn't matter when you traveled there, since nothing ever really changed. That might still be true for some parts of the world. However, I quickly learned during my two weeks in Hawaii that there are very noticeable differences between summer and winter in the Hawaiian islands, especially Kauai.
Now don't get me wrong. It's not cold in Kauai.
However, winter brings along its own flavors. For example, the northern part of Kauai becomes more rainy and the waves there become so strong, no one is allowed to go swimming in the ocean. Beaches in the north are off limits in the winter. As a result, most people who are interested in spending time at the beach during the winter stay in Poipu, one of the main resort towns at the southern tip of the Island.
We arrived in Poipu just in time for dinner. Up until this point I had been used to lively resort areas like Waikiki Beach in Honolulu or the oceanfront boardwalk in Ka'anapali, Maui. It wasn't until we arrived that I realized Kauai is much more relaxed island. The towns really fall asleep at night, and things don't open that late at all. It was like night and day, really, comparing Poipu to Honolulu.
Merriman's Fish House was only about a mile away from our hotel. Had the surroundings been more walkable, we would have loved to walk there. However, Poipu just really isn't set up that way, at least not near the Sheraton Poipu, which is where we were staying. Instead, Merriman's was located in a separate shopping area, almost like a town center, full of other restaurants, shops, and a large parking lot with plenty of parking. Between our resort and this shopping area was mostly just dark roads with no sidewalks or shops. Poipu felt more spread out, suburban almost, and definitely more car-friendly.
We had heard plenty of good things about Merriman's and had already tried to go once before, to the oceanfront location in Maui. Unfortunately, Merriman's in Maui was closed for a private event the day we tried to go, so we ended up visiting Sansei Sushi Bar and Restaurant instead. Finally, here in Kauai, we would have a second chance to try this well-respected and popular restaurant.
Merriman's was founded on principles of locavorism. The founder, Peter Merriman, moved to Hawaii 25 years ago during a time when Hawaii mostly imported produce from elsewhere. He, together with twelve other chefs, started a movement where they encouraged Hawaiian farmers to grow more of their own produce and raise meats locally. To this day, his restaurants still hold true to those same values, with over 90% of the menus focused on locally produced food.
The restaurant honors its many farmers by hanging up photos of them around the restaurant. If you look closely, you can see one of their Japanese farmers pictured at the right.
We began with a delicious (and complimentary!) amuse bouche: chips made from local purple potatoes with a bean spread and crispy fried chick peas.
I can never get enough seafood, so I opted to start with the "Tasting of Three" from the raw bar ($26).
Ono Poisson Cru (from AI Farms) was tossed in a Tahitian lime dressing with shaved young coconut flakes, cucumber, jalapeño, and cilantro. It was surprisingly spicy but overall very good.
Keahole Lobster Ceviche (gluten-free!) consisted of lobster tossed with avocado, aji amarillo (a spicy yellow pepper), local citrus, sweet Maui onion, and toasted coriander. This was excellent as well.
The Fresh Island Ahi Poke came with sea asparagus from K0ahuku, edamame guacamole, and Grove Farms sweet potato chips. For both of us, it was our favorite of the three. The ingredients were super fresh and the flavors came together perfectly.
For a mid-course, we shared one of the specials of the day: a Crab Cavatelli tossed with local mushrooms and fresh ricotta. Although the pasta could have been just a tad more al dente, we really loved the flavors, especially from the mushrooms. All in all, it was a fantastic dish and we ate it up.
Their entrees are available in either half or whole portions, though they are priced in a way that encourages you to order the full portion (since it's only $5 or $6 more). In our case, we decided to share two full portions, which effectively means we were eating two "half portions" without paying the premium.
Our first course, Merriman’s Original Wok Charred Ahi ($39 full portion / $35 half portion), came from fisherman Captain Cody Kimura "trolling the West Buoys." The beautifully charred tuna was served with a shoyu-wasabi palm heart purée, pohole fern (like fiddleheads!) salad, black forbidden rice, local tomatoes, and a cucumber-cilantro sauce. The flavors of the wok char were pronounced and the fish was beautifully smoky.
"It's like a nicely grilled steak" Bryan remarked.
We also ordered the Macadamia Nut Crusted Monchong from the Honolulu Fish Block ($41 full portion / $36 half portion), which was served with a sake mushroom reduction, Moloa'a green beans, and roasted eggplant.
All in all, everything was delicious and the service was excellent. We later found out that our server had worked his way up from being a dishwasher. In fact, today was his first day as a server and we were his first customers! He did an excellent job. He really knew the dishes, gave us great recommendations, and was very pleasant.
For fun, Bryan decided to give him a huge tip as a "congratulations on your first day".
This is a great restaurant. They really care about how their seafood is sourced. Furthermore, they knows how to cook seafood really well, and overall they are experts at delivering a really enjoyable experience. I would not hesitate to go to another Merriman's again, no matter which island I'm on.
Merriman's (Merriman's Kauai)
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St #G-149
Koloa, HI 96756