Friday, January 15, 2010
We stopped in the old upcountry paniolo town of Waimea, at a restaurant that we had heard some good things about, Merrimans. Now I should mention that I have been coming to Hawaii for forty years and this is the coldest trip I have ever taken. It was positively freezing in Waimea, especially with us in our aprés swim gear. I remarked that if I had wanted weather this cold, we could have gone to Miami.
We slunk into the restaurant, embarrassed by our casual attire, and asked the hostess to hide us somewhere away from the civilized clientele. Luckily, they put us near the kitchen, where we could warm up our frozen extremities. My wife Leslie asked me if I noticed the paintings in the lounge, which I agreed with her were godawful. Never a good sign.
I would like to report that the meal was superb, but could not do so with a straight face, as it actually left us with mixed emotions. Number one, it was expensive, and number two the portions, were miniscule. Now Leslie and I have been inordinately thrifty this trip and this was to be our "great meal" of the vacation. We can deal with expensive and puny portions if the food is delicious, but it was definitely just so-so.
We started the meal off with a square of yeasty bread and met our competent server for the night, Guy. He had reportedly been there since the time of Kamehameha himself. A bit dismissive but he knew the lay of the land. I ordered the Kehua Ranch leg of lamb and wine braised lamb shank, grande edition. Merriman's grows their own lamb and beef on the ranch and work a lot with local farmers. Well and good. I also ordered a garlic macadamia rice dish and a special salad with goat cheese, beets, greens, avocado, tomatoes in a citrus vinaigrette. With an initial glass of wine, an excellent Beckman Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Ynez, my portion of the meal cost about seventy dollars. Leslie ordered the same salad that I did and an appetizer called ahi, ahi, ahi, which features Sashimi, Katsu, Tartare, Warabe, Namasu and Guacamole. Several riffs on ahi if you need a translation and throw in a pickle. She decided that she would also share my meal and I managed to suppress my snarl with all the comity I could muster.
The salads were pretty ordinary but suffered from a distinct absence of greens. Perhaps they are now rationing on the island, but I doubt there were more than three pieces of anything resembling lettuce on either plate. The avocado was tasteless, the goat cheese excellent but all in all a humdrum affair. Leslie felt the same way. It's the typical nouveau california salad, sans the candied nut or fruit ingredient that seems to be standard these days. I am not a huge beet fan and the ingredient kind of killed it for me.
When my entree arrived, I went into a momentary shock. If this was actually the large portion of lamb, I feel sorry for the poor sap who ordered the petite, and hope that he or she brought their own tweezers. The ovine that depended on this leg to stand on had some serious abrasions from living its life scraping its poor ruminant stomach on the grass. This is a glorified steakhouse charging a minimum of $35.00 per entree, you think that they could give you a decent quantity of food. Especially since the side dishes will set you back about another $8.00 per.
My rice was quite tasty, fantastic really, when they finally got around to serving it, after I complained. But for this amount of money, give me enough rice to save some ethiopian child, will you? They did include a complimentary square of potato gratin, about the size of a large postage stamp. Alongside this was an unidentifiable soggy lump of some gelatinous green substance. Now to be fair, the lamb was truly delicious, both the sliced medallions and the braised shank. But once again, Billy Barty would have developed anorexia on this measly fare.
Leslie wanted to ask for a magnifying glass so that she could locate the entree. Call me a yokel from the hinterlands, I don't really care. We foreswore pretentious food some time ago. Maybe the family from Des Plaines on vacation can be cajoled into thinking that this was fine dining, but we have been around the block a few times.
My betrothed felt pretty much the same way about the meal. Her ahi tartare was not really a tartare, more of a poke, even if they did throw in a few capers. I tried a piece and it was pretty tasteless. Honestly had a better meal this afternoon at the deli counter at Big Save.
I tried a glass of Barbera after my Cab and it was simply undrinkable, with an acrid, off putting taste that most resembled mildew or dirty laundry. They took it off the bill after suggesting that it was partly my fault for not drinking it before the good cab.
We passed on dessert, which looked interesting. When I got the bill, my wife took one look at it and cracked, "Well there goes my helicopter ride." Suffice it to say we won't be returning.
The death of Captain James Cook, 1779.