My last “We Ate It” Round-Up (yeah, I know…I skipped November) featured a couple selections from Cocina, a new(ish) favorite spot. The menu’s always changing, though—and if I ever make it there for lunch I’m in trouble since I want everything on the lunch menu—so we could eat here again and again and not repeat.

Lately I’ve been on a grilled tako (octopus) kick. Chef Quinten Frye makes a mean one—the sucker bits on the tentacles are all nice and crunchy! Sorry if you aren’t a fan of tentacles. But come sit by me and give me all of yours. The chorizo was excellent, too. “What makes it green?” I asked.

Local tako (octopus), smoked potatoes, salsa verde, chipotle, green chorizo, squid ink at Cocina. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

“Oh, I just put in anything green I can get my hands on,” said Quinten.

Shake had this Maui flat iron steak with chilaquiles, sunny side-up egg and salsa borracho. Also very tasty. And quite a large portion.

Maui flat iron steak with chilaquiles, sunny side-up egg, salsa borracho at Cocina. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

We closed out 2013 with some invitations to dine at a few places. First, the newly revamped menu at Hula Grill Waikiki’s Plantation Bar. (This is the bar portion of the restaurant; the rest of the restaurant has a different menu.) The friendly staff just kept bringing us food until we called it quits, so we ate a lot more than this. Here are some favorites:

New bar menu tasting at Hula Grill Waikiki. Grilled Hawaiian Tako: Locally caught octopus, mango edamame chimichurri, cherry tomatoes. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

Like I said, I’m on a grilled tako kick, so this was one of the few dishes that I specifically asked to try. The tako didn’t have the same charred sucker crunchies, but it was still good. Very tender. And the mango edamame chimichurri was fresh and delicious. I’m not sure how many tourists will order it, but I loved that they put something so fresh and local on the menu.

This presentation of ‘ahi sashimi with shallot gremolata, ‘alaea salt and Thai basil oil was also excellent. I love bar food and small portions. In fact, a lot of times, I prefer eating this way to ordering full entrée dishes. And any time a bar offers non-fried foods I think it’s great.

New bar menu tasting at Hula Grill Waikiki. Sashimi Hula Style: Raw ‘ahi, shallot gremolata, ‘alaea salt, Thai basil oil. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

That said, I’m not against fried! These “Portobello Mushroom Fries” were really fantastic.

New bar menu tasting at Hula Grill Waikiki. Portobello Mushroom Fries. Mushrooms from Small Kine Farms, served with sriracha aioli. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

They were meaty and nicely seasoned. We’d ordered some fish and chips, too, but as soon as these came, I was over the fish. It makes a nice alternative for vegetarians who don’t do wings or fish, but they’re so thick and full of yummy umami taste carnivores will love them, too.

There were many, many other dishes that we got to try; not all of them photographed particularly well. One to try: the “Mini Corn Dogs” which are battered with Kahuku corn batter and use Kukui Sausage Co. pineapple sausage and kim chee sausage. I am not normally a big fan of corn dogs—I pretty much out-and-out hate them, in fact—but these were amazing! The batter was light and crispy, not too bready, and had a great sweet corn flavor. And Kukui Sausage is one of our favorite brands. These were small two or three bite dogs, perfect for bar snacking.

Killer view at Brown’s Beach House, Fairmont Orchid. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

Around mid-month, we headed to the Big Island for Merriman’s Waimea’s 25th anniversary of Chef Peter Merriman’s first restaurant. What a milestone!

We were honored to be the guests of Merriman’s Waimea and the Fairmont Orchid hotel. We arrived the day before the anniversary party and were treated to dinner at the Fairmont Orchid’s Brown’s Beach House restaurant right at sunset. How’s this for a dinner view?

Chef Darren Ogasawara sent out some amazing creations, including these two beautiful raw fish dishes:

Beautiful sashimi by Chef Darren Ogasawara of Brown’s Beach House, Fairmont Orchid. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

‘Ahi sashimi rose by Chef Darren Ogasawara of Brown’s Beach House, Fairmont Orchid. ‘Ahi, Truffle Basil Vinaigrette, ‘Alaea Salt, Mizuna Garlic Soy. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

By the end of the meal, we were so stuffed I felt like I needed to ask for a bellman’s cart to be pushed back to our room. It was all so delicious. Chef Darren is relatively new to Brown’s Beach House, though not to the Fairmont Orchid property—he previously oversaw Norio’s, the hotel’s sushi and steakhouse restaurant.

Brown’s Beach House is named for Francis I‘i Brown, a Hawaiian statesman and grandson to a Hawaiian chief from Kona who served as a royal advisor to King Kamehameha II. The Mauna Lani area, where the Fairmont Orchid is located, was a family retreat.

“My heroes have always been farmers.” – Peter Merriman. Merriman’s Waimea 25th Anniversary party. © 2014 Sugar + ShakeThe next day: party time! This was the first time I’d ever been to Merriman’s Waimea, which was the first of Chef Peter Merriman’s restaurants, which now number five, plus two Monkeypod Kitchens, on four islands. Chef Peter is one of the 12 founders of the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine movement, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011. (HRC is the style of cuisine unique to Hawai‘i that blends local flavors with a sophisticated style from influences around the world and places an emphasis on sourcing locally.) Merriman was also one of the first local chefs to really push for using locally grown and raised ingredients, way before it was “a thing” and it continues to be a big part of his cooking today. Oh yeah, and he’s also a nice, friendly guy.

During the event we also got to spend some time talking to Chef Neil Murphy, Merriman’s executive chef. We were enthralled by the enormous contraption taking up a large portion of the garden outside. We were told it was Chef Neil’s project and he was very excited to tell us about it. My pictures of it came out lousy (too many happy guests wandering about!) but imagine an enormous cast iron tripod standing about six or seven feet tall. It suspends a large grill plate, hung on chains. The grill plate can swing back and forth—our discussion at the table concluded that the swinging was pretty much for the purposes of allowing guys to claim they were “cooking” while pushing the grill plate back and forth between each other as they drank beer—and can also be raised or lowered. Of course the whole thing also involves a large wood fire so it all smells and looks amazing. It’s called a schwenker and is of German origin. Chef Neil and his crew saw one being used once and decided they had to have one. As luck would have it, one of the state’s only two blacksmiths is based in Waimea (it’s a cattle ranching town) so they were able to have one custom built for them.

Here’s some lamb and potatoes that were schwenkered. (I don’t know if that’s really a word, but I’m making it one.)

Schwenker-grilled lamb with potatoes at Merriman’s Waimea 25th Anniversary party. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

The whole affair was a very fun, low key party with lots and lots of food and drink. And dessert, of course—Merriman’s signature chocolate purses. I think I had three of these.

Congratulations to Chef Peter and all his hard-working staff on their major milestone anniversary! Through their efforts, we all get to eat better!

Chocolate purses, a Merriman’s signature dessert. Merriman’s Waimea 25th Anniversary party. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

This year because Christmas fell in the middle of the week (yuck), Shake and I took Christmas Eve off. (Technically, our workplaces gave us the day since the official line is that we get a half day, but Shake’s boss was nice and said they could have the whole day and I told my boss I thought half a day was dumb so could I get the whole day off, too. It worked.)

Cocktail for Christmas Eve at Halekulani. House Without a Key’s Rio Bramble. © 2014 Sugar + Shake

We had a couple of errands to run in Waikīkī, so we ended up staying there all afternoon. It was interesting! We don’t normally spend much daylight time there. The bulk of the afternoon was spent lounging at the Halekulani’s House Without a Key, people-watching and sipping on cocktails. I highly recommend it. I had this festive looking Rio Bramble which was essentially a tumbler full of gin with some nice sweetness and flavor added by the acai liqueur (which turns it that pretty shade of pink).

That does it for our December! Cheers! I hope your New Year is off to a delicious start!

Disclosure: Sugar + Shake were hosted by Merriman’s Waimea and the Fairmont Orchid. Travel, accommodations and our meals at their establishments were provided by the hosts, but no compensation was received for this post, and the opinions expressed are strictly our own.