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By Steven Li on 2005-12-16

December 16, 2005

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Hooray! I’m back home in Hawaii for Christmas break and it feels WONDERFUL. I often find myself asking what I ever left this paradise…uh, I guess that would be…to pursue higher education. But education aside, we must pursue more important matters such as food. The Super Shuttle picked me up at 3 am this morning for an 8 am flight from LAX to HNL. As the traffic was good, I got there very early and found myself sitting at Starbucks for a two hours. I will never understand why some people strong dislike Starbucks – drinks and service is good and consistent, and who doesn’t like their cheerful red holiday cups!
I had a very tummy warming peppermint mocha while daydreaming about all the new places I restaurants I plan to visit and my grandma’s weekend dinners. The only other place open at 5 am was Burger King. I was craving something savory but not a egg/sausage/cheddar/bacon/and the whole world breakfast sandwich so I bought a mozzarella pepper pesto baguette (priced at a ridiculous $8.95) from Starbucks. As expected, Starbucks is known for their drinks, not sandwiches. The baguette was cold, flavorless and chewy so I picked out the mozzarella (passable), peppers and pesto and trashed the bread. Under ordinary circumstances I would have been deeply upset over the wasted $8.95 but today, who cared?! I was going home :)
Home = Good Food
To make a long story short, mom was craving fish, I was craving fish, so Nico’s Pier 38it was!
I first had Nico’s during the summer and was impressed by the quality of their plate lunches. This semi hard to find casual eatery is located right next door to the fish auction on Nimtz Highway. In this case, when you put a fish auction and a casual gourmet lunch spot together you get high quality fish at very afforadable price! Nico’s is ALWAYS packed during lunch yet they operate in a very efficient, if hectic manner. You place your order at the counter, pick up you lunches in the traditional styrofoam boxes and have the option of taking it to go or sitting at one of the (few) plastic tables outside.
I ordered the Furikake Pan Seared Ahi w/ Ginger Garlic Cilantro Sauce ($7.95). This is the most popular plate lunch at Nico’s – a large cut of quality ahi dipped in furikake and quickly pan-seared. And when they say furikake, they mean lots furikake. Though the picture may lead you to think otherwise, I promise there was a delicious cut of seared ahi underneath! It comes with ginger garlic cilantro sauce on the side, but I usually eat the fish plain. The salty sweet flavor from the furikake and the excellent quality of the ahi shines on it’s own. You can pick to have it cooked rare/medium/well, but why go for anything but rare?Mom settled on the catch of the day: Grilled Swordfish with Basil Marinade and Sundried Tomato Aoili ($7.95). I had a couple bites of the swordfish but thought the ahi was much better (I’m just missing ahi, poke and the like!) The swordfish was cooked a little too long but was nonetheless flavorful with hints of basil and lime. The aoili was delicious but I believed it was not needed as again, the high quality of the fish renders aoili and sauces unnecessary.

Both plate lunches came with the option of white/brown rice and mac/nalo salad. It’s nice to see more local spots offering “healthier” choices while still maintaining the option of traditional plate lunch sides. While known for the fish plate lunches, I’ve heard excellent reviews on Nico’s Beef Stew and Hoisin BBQ Chicken. They recently started featuring desserts from Sami W. (I believe the pastry chef who left Grand Cafe). There were only a few pieces of bread pudding and thick slices of moist banana bread left in the dessert case by noon. If the quality of sweets here is on par with the ones from Grand Cafe, then I’m coming back just for bread pudding!

Nico’s a fun spot for a chill lunch. Everyone will find something to like whether they be seafood fanatics or a “just a hamburger” guy and even the chicken katsu local. It’s bustling, loud and noisy yet I find that only adds to the charm of the restaurant. Come hungry, leave full/happy and feeling semi-healthy (provided you choose brown rice and the nalo greens). The only problem you may encounter is trying to find a table during the lunch rush.

Nico’s Pier 38
1133 N. Nimitz Hwy
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 540-1377

May I say “YAY FOR HOME” once more? :)



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