2009 Hale Aina Awards
Welcome to our 25th anniversary Hale Aina Awards, Hawaii’s oldest, most prestigious dining awards. In the following pages, you’ll meet this year’s winners, as voted by the subscribers of HONOLULU Magazine.
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• Best New Neighbor Island Restaurant, Gold
Philip Wang, the executive chef of the new Merriman’s on Maui, always marvels at what the farmers deliver to the kitchen door. “Mother Nature is the artist,” he says. “I’m just the craftsman.” Wang, new to the Islands, appreciates the abundance of local ingredients. “I’m from Northern California, the ground zero for produce, and I’m surprised at the amount of local ingredients [we use],” he says rattling off a long list of Hawaii favorites such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, avocadoes, corn, baby turnips and fresh fish.
Recently refining the winter menu, Wang reveals that the restaurant wants to cure its own salami and sausages and hang them in the wine room. Wang and Peter Merriman also are looking into incorporating farm tours, similar to the popular farm-to-table tour and dinner done at the Big Island restaurant. “We are ingredient-driven, top to bottom,” he says.
Formaggio Wine Bar
• Best Wine Program, Gold
Those who think wine tasting is an esoteric experience should try Formaggio Wine Bar, where it’s about learning new things, enjoying good company and drinking great wine. “We make wine very approachable,” says Wes Zane, restaurateur and owner of the downtown and Kailua Formaggio. “We try to make it fun.” More than 50 wines are available, including 2-ounce tastes. However, the wine list constantly changes. “We have blackboard specials offering wines that [many customers] wouldn’t ordinarily be able to taste.”
Forty bottles of mostly reds are stored with a cruvinete wine preservation system, which replaces oxygen with nitrogen inside the bottles. Among them is the Australian Shiraz, one of the most popular wines right now, says Zane. For those who want to learn more, master sommelier Roberto Viernes offers a monthly class. Of course, wine without food would only be half the fun; Formaggio also serves pizzas and paninis, ranging in price from $9.95 to $14.95.