Nico Casts His Net: The Story Behind the New Nico’s at Pier 38
Plus the restaurant’s role in Pier 38’s vision as a modern-day fishing village.
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NICO’S FISH MARKET, WITH WHOLE FISH, FRESH FILLETS AND A POKE COUNTER.
In addition to the lunch service, the menu largely unchanged from the old Nico’s except for the addition of pizzas, there’s dinner. At night, the Styrofoam is swapped out for real plates, dishes go up $3 to $4 and Chaize’s French comfort food supplements the menu: steak frites, a seared skirt steak topped with herbed butter, short ribs braised in red wine. These bistro classics threaten to outshine the fish dishes. A pupu menu features marlin carpaccio and poisson cru—a Tahitian version of poke marinated in lime juice and coconut milk.
Bistro classics such as steak frites are offered at night.
Also new is the fish market, because it didn’t make sense to have a fish auction on Pier 38 and nowhere for people to buy fish, short of bidding on a whole 150-pound ahi at five in the morning. There’s a poke counter, fish smoked in-house (try the Cajun-spiced, smoked swordfish, moist and meaty), and whole, fresh fish such as monchong and opakapaka, fillets of mahimahi and sailfish.
Nico’s market boasts more variety in the fish it carries than the restaurant. Most of the fish on Nico’s restaurant menu tends toward the larger species—ahi, swordfish, marlin—because larger fish are easier to deal with in volume. (Nico’s moves about 400 pounds of fish daily. As a comparison, Side Street Inn serves an average of 100 pounds of its famed pork chops a day.)
At dinner, Nico’s offers a pupu menu that includes poisson cru, a Tahitian version of poke marinated in lime juice and coconut milk.
And yet, with all these additions, lunch plates still hover around $10. Chaize says that, from the beginning, he wanted to “give a chance to locals to eat fish for cheap. If you want fresh fish, you go to Alan Wong’s, Roy’s, you get charged $28 for fish. It doesn’t have to be expensive. But nobody wants to buy fish at the auction, put a bigeye in the back of a truck and carry it himself. I’m the one who does this. I buy the fish on the block. There’s no middleman. It’s me and the fish; I cut it, serve it.”
Nico’s, bigger and better, is a hit. Pier 38, with its industrial, big-box buildings and a promenade that doesn’t go anywhere, is not quite there yet, compared to its ambitions, as Honolulu’s version of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco or Pike Place in Seattle. But that may be why Pier 38 works. Unlike those exaggerated destinations, it is what it is: a waterfront dominated by cargo ships, cranes and commercial fishing boats, its industrial ocean architecture glowing in the dusk, providing the sea equivalent of a city skyline. Chaize says, “It’s not Hollywood. These are real fishing boats. That’s Pier 38.” In this day and age of food tourists and gourmands seeking authenticity and the origins of their food, perhaps Nico’s and Pier 38 are the perfect bait.
1129 North Nimitz Highway, (808) 540-1377, nicospier38.com.