First Look: Merriman’s Honolulu

The first O‘ahu location of Merriman’s offers fun, fresh dishes.


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Merriman's Honolulu

Baked macaroni and cheese
Photos: Aaron K. Yoshino

 

Watching the new Merriman’s Honolulu restaurant gear up to open this week felt a little like the foodie version of the Ocean’s movie series. But instead of pulling off a heist, these folks are planning some great meals.

 

First the food, then more about the gang. We got to sample a little bit of everything at the media preview on June 20. A surprise standout? Tableside poke ($16): fresh ‘ahi mixed with Maui onion, inamona, ogo, avocado and a bright sauce. Simple yet special.

 

Merriman's Honolulu

Tableside poke

 

The tako served à la escargot with cognac garlic butter ($18) was also memorable. In Merriman’s familiar round specialty dishware, the octopus proved tender and tasty, served with fresh-baked country bread. And we didn’t want to stop eating the baked macaroni and cheese ($11), served in a hot skillet with Big Island goat cheese and three seeds I’ve never seen together outside of a smoothie: chia, pumpkin and sunflower. The seeds give a crunchy nuttiness that complements the creamy goat cheese and the old-school elbow macaroni.

 

Merriman’s Honolulu

Tako served à la escargot

 

The Kualoa Ranch Smokin’ Oysters on the half shell from the dinner menu ($3 each with a minimum of four per order) were fun to watch and eat. The sweet briny Windward O‘ahu oysters are served under a glass cover filled with smoke until it’s released at the table. Crudités stuck into the spikes of a flower-arranging pin frog further jazzed up the presentation with a twist I’ve seen in other cities but not on a Hawai‘i plate. The chef said the playful veggie holders were special-ordered for the dish.

 

Smoking oysters

Kualoa Ranch Smokin’ Oysters

 

From the lunch entrée menu, we tried a tasty fish taco: house-made tortilla with fresh fish and a roasted habanero and pineapple salsa ($16). Salads—big and small—fresh seafood, beef, lamb and veggies all round out the experience of eating at a restaurant that relies on the quality of local ingredients and the inspiration of the staff.

 

Merriman's Honolulu

Fish tacos

 

Now back to the gang, then dessert. The lead instigator, chef-owner Peter Merriman, explains how the new Ward Village restaurant, the long-awaited Merriman’s-branded O‘ahu outpost, will serve signature fresh dishes, simply and expertly prepared. As a founding member of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, he has the farmers and other suppliers providing food that many other restaurants envy.

 

It’s been 30 years since he opened the flagship restaurant in cowboy town Waimea, 10 years since he expanded to Maui at Kapalua and a bit later to Kaua‘i. He’s got partner restaurants Monkeypod Kitchen and Moku Kitchen on O‘ahu. But it was clear this week that he’s still having fun dreaming up what’s next. “A lot of the dishes are created by me in my kitchen at home,” he says.

 

Peter Merriman

Chef-owner Peter Merriman

 

Across the room, executive chef Jon Matsubara briefs the staff as they get ready for dinner service. A culinary mastermind in his own right, Matsubara is happy to work with Merriman, serving fresh dishes that he ensures meet each of their standards.

 

Jon Matsubara

executive chef Jon Matsubara

 

By the bar is a new recruit with his own street cred: Dusty Grable, co-founder of Lucky Belly, Livestock Tavern and The Tchin Tchin! Bar, now Merriman’s beverage director. Grable makes sure the wine list is inventive, the cocktails are interesting and it all comes together. Everywhere we looked, we saw another familiar face from restaurants we’ve loved, which made us even more curious about returning.  

 

The new 6,000-square-foot eatery seats 200 with a staff of 130. It feels like French bistro meets Hawai‘i chic: black and white chairs, patterned tile, bench seats with day-boat-style fabric and ‘ōhi‘a log pillars for accents. For comparison, the first Merriman’s seats 120 inside and 50 in the garden.

 

Merriman's Honolulu

 

Surprise details here include special Hawai‘i Island-grown cinnamon planks, provided by sustainable farmer Tane Datta, that smell as good as they look (fresh baked bread is served on them). The tile behind the bar seem familiar? It echoes the design of the nearby iconic IBM building.

 

Room for dessert? Yes, the signature Molten Chocolate Purse is there, with silky chocolate and house-made vanilla ice cream, as well as bread pudding in a skillet that includes pineapple, macadamia nuts and rum butter sauce.

 

Merriman's Honolulu

Molten Chocolate Purse

 

So, this week offered a hint of what’s to come. We like to think of it as the trailer and are making plans to check out the whole movie in the coming weeks.

 

The restaurant opens in Ward Village tomorrow, June 23. Hours will be from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. 1108 Auahi St., (808) 215-0022, merrimanshawaii.com/honolulu

Bring the family down to the Best of Honolulu Festival July 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Honolulu Hale civic grounds. Eat at ‘ono food booths, shop local designers in the marketplace, bring the family to the keiki zone for face painting, balloon animals, rides, games and more. For more information, visit honolulumagazine.com/bestofhonolulu.

 

READ MORE STORIES FROM ROBBIE DINGEMAN

 

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