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Food & Dining // Table Talk
Jo McGarry

Fish Doesn’t Get Any Fresher Than This

It’s a culinary fairy tale of sorts, a “build it and they will come” restaurant story, and a testament to hard work and vision. And, judging by the hundreds make that thousands who’ve already been standing in line at lunchtime, we’re witnessing the birth of one of Honolulu’s most successful restaurants.

The opening of Nico’s at Pier 38 on New Year’s Eve was a fun, joyful evening where friends, colleagues and family got together to celebrate Nico Chaize’s new waterfront restaurant.

Sworn to “secrecy” and asked not to write a word about the restaurant until it had officially opened, I kept my promise to wait until Chaize had a month or two under his belt. But there was no keeping this stunning harborside restaurant secret from anyone, and within days of the doors opening quietly for lunch, Nico’s was under siege.

“We’re very busy,” says Chaize, turning from grill to counter in a repetitive motion as he flips fresh filets of fish from searing heat and drops them into rows of neatly prepared Styrofoam boxes. That most likely qualifies as the understatement of the year. And things are only going to get busier.

A waterfront restaurant next to the fish auction with incredibly good food has almost every chance of success. When the restaurant itself boasts a beautiful bar, a brand-new dining room, banquet rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a fresh fish market next door, it’s hard to imagine the team behind Nico’s could have done anything better. Still casual, despite the millions of dollars spent building the restaurant, and the order-at-the-counter method works as well as it did when Chaize was only doing 350 lunches a day.

A note on the menu reminds diners that “fish is provided by our local fishing fleet” and encourages all to “enjoy eating sustainable healthy fish caught by Hawaii’s finest fishermen.” With this single statement, the mission of Nico’s is defined.

There’s always been a commitment to sustainable fishing practices at the Honolulu Fishing Agency, and Nico’s is an extension of the belief that we can fish our oceans and feed our families, all with sustainability in mind.

With fresh local ingredients and dishes such as Fishermen’s Stew ($7), Blackened Fish ’Wich ($10.95), Crab Cake Salad ($11.25) and Furikake Pan Seared Ahi ($10.95), there’s enough on the lunch menu to tempt even those who usually turn up their noses at fish.

Chicken Katsu ($8.95), Pork Chops ($9.50), Hawaiian Plates — on Fridays — ($9.50) and Beef Stew ($8.50) will ensure a steady stream of locals, while crab cakes, poke, grilled ahi and fish tacos will appeal to those who come purely for the tourist trip.

But if you want some advice: Don’t go for lunch. At least not anytime soon.

With the official opening just days away, the restaurant is only about to get busier. Go for dinner or late in the afternoon instead. The crowds aren’t as big (yet) and the evening menu includes dishes inspired by Chaize’s French background and classical training. Red Wine Braised Short Ribs ($16), Lemon Thyme Roasted Chicken ($14), Moules Frites ($14.75) and Nico’s Steamed Clams ($14.75) make it nearly impossible not to love the view, the food and the young chef who helped make it all happen.

The latest addition to our dining scene brings much needed local flavor and the promise of new life at the harbor. Happy eating! Nico’s at Pier 38 540-1377 Sunday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

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