Naturally Raised Kahua Ranch Lamb

La Vida Local

Experience the locavore movement firsthand at one of Peter Merriman’s eponymous establishments.

The menu speaks for itself… Original wokcharred ‘ahi with curried hearts of palm, pohole fern salad, black forbidden rice and wasabi-cilantro sauce.

Five-Spice Pan-Roasted Jidori Chicken with Moloka’i sweet potato ravioli, Waimea Farms asparagus, Hawaiian ginger-roasted carrots and grilled lemon-Chinese black bean sauce.

Hawaiian Hogs “Butcher’s Cut” with toasted farro, baby fennel confit, Hirabara Farms Swiss chard, Ahualoa macadamia nut romesco and charred Nakano Farms green tomato relish.

Sound divine?

Delicious, satisfying food is the mainstay of Merriman’s Restaurants in Hawai’i, located on Hawai’i Island, Maui, Kaua’i and O’ahu. The multiple award-winning restaurants have been extolled by food writers and diners alike for “having the freshest local ingredients paired in exciting ways.”

Merriman’s Restaurants wake up the palate with fresh, island-grown foods that are prepared to showcase the flavors of Hawai’i’s many ethnicities. Sauces, dressings, spices and cooking techniques hint of cuisine from Asia, the Pacific and beyond.

The carefully chosen ingredients used at Merriman’s-more than 90 percent-hail exclusively from Hawai’i and boast of being sustainably grown or caught. Their place of origin is proudly proclaimed on menus via the names of farms, ranches and even fisherman. The menu is a testament to the agricultural-culinary partnerships formed by founder Peter Merriman, a Pittsburgh native who came to Hawai’i in 1983 as a hotel cook.

Rather than serving the typical continental cuisine that used ingredients flown in from afar, Merriman decided in 1985 that he wanted to offer something different: “regional cuisine” showcasing local fish and produce. After finding local products were hard to come by, he advertised in the newspapers and visited farms, ranches and docks. He told producers, “If you grow it or catch it, I’ll buy it, and we all succeed.”

Merriman said it was “the right thing to do” and he recruited other chefs to focus on using locally produced foods. The momentum formed the coining of a new culinary movement: “Hawai’i Regional Cuisine.” HRC showcases the unique products of Hawai’i and the multicultural heritage of the state’s many chefs and residents.

Merriman explains the benefits of HRC, saying, “We are able to serve the freshest, most flavorful food… The bonus is that it benefits the local economy while helping to preserve the land and the agrarian way of life.”

In addition to subscribing to the farm-to-table concept, Merriman has a “buy the best olives” philosophy, meaning he buys the best product, regardless of cost, for his three fine dining establishments. They include Merriman’s Waimea, located in the rolling pasturelands of Hawai’i Island; Merriman’s Kapalua, set on The Point overlooking Kapalua Bay on Maui; and Merriman’s Fish House on Kaua’i, with its feeling of an old Hawaiian plantation.

Merriman says “buying the best olives” is about meeting diner’s expectations. “People who choose to dine with us are coming in for a great dining experience so we want to give them the best dining experience we can.”

While the fine dining restaurants share some of the same “classic” Merriman menu items, their ingredients may hail from different islands. Also, each restaurant has some of its own menu choices-and similarities-for tantalizing appetizers, savory soups, salads, entrees and got-to-make-room-for desserts.

Merriman’s Classics include the aforementioned Wok-Charred ‘Ahi, Sautéed Day-Boat Mahi Mahi Ponzu, Naturally Raised Lamb and Prime, Bone-In New York Steak. While Merriman says he “loves all of them,” the ‘ahi could well be his signature menu item as he is credited with being the first U.S. chef to cook fresh fish in the Asian style of lightly searing it on the outside and leaving it raw, or sashimi-style, on the inside.

The Mahi Mahi Ponzu, which is prepared with a citrusy soy vinaigrette, and the Wok- Charred ‘Ahi source a premium grade of “day-boat” fish, meaning the fish is caught the day it is served. Fish is also caught using sustainable methods, such as trolling.

At Merriman’s Waimea, Merriman says his favorite choice is the Naturally Raised Kahua Ranch Lamb. “It’s so incredible, the flavor is the best in the world,” he details. “It’s small, but it’s closer to the spring lamb of years ago.” Chef adds that he has worked with Kahua Ranch for over 25 years to produce the best quality lamb. “It’s a combination of breeding and feed-the animals eat rich grass and are not confined, but naturally and humanely raised.”

At last count, Merriman’s flagship Waimea restaurant-which celebrated its 25th anniversary in December 2013-uses products from about 35 different Hawai’i Island farms, ranches, aquaculturists and fishermen. “I really don’t count anymore,” shares Merriman. “I’m not sure, but I’d say we use about 15-20 sources on both Maui and Kaua’i, and a few on O’ahu.”

Merriman’s debuted on O’ahu in 2012 with the opening of Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman in Ko Olina. With a sister location also in Wailea, Maui, Monkeypod Kitchen has the same focus on sustainable meat, fish and produce with more of a party vibe.

The same locavore focus prevails at Merriman’s other, more casual eateries: Merriman’s Mediterranean Café at the Waikoloa Kings’ Shops on Hawai’i Island, Merriman’s Gourmet Pizza & Burgers in Po’ipu, Kaua’i and Hula Grill on Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach.

To source the restaurants, Merriman has visited more than 100 farmers and says his staff communicates with food purveyors “on a daily basis.”

“All our chefs visit farmers because it’s a good exchange of info,” he continues. To help farmers use up seasonal bounty, Merriman’s Restaurants offer specials. Chef says loyalty to producers is “one of our operating principals.”

“It’s about a sustainable partnership that works both ways,” Merriman shares. “If we have a producer who starts producing for us, we won’t desert him because someone comes in with a lower price. And if that producer’s supply runs low, he gives us the product first, ensuring availability for us.”

With a long-standing commitment to Hawai’i Regional Cuisine, Merriman’s Restaurants support the planet and local economy. It’s where delicious food can be enjoyed and diners can feel good about how it is made.

Merriman’s Waimea, 65-1227 Opelo Road, Kamuela, Hawai’i Island, (808) 885-6822; Merriman’s Kapalua, One Bay Club Place, Lahaina, Maui, (808) 669-6400; Merriman’s Fish House, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Street #G149, Koloa, Kaua’i, (808) 742-8385. For more on all of Merriman’s restaurants, and for online reservations, log on to

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