It’s no accident that chef Nico Chaize ended up opening Nico’s Pier 38 where he did in 2004. Sure, the Lyon native secured a space next to his stepfather’s fishing store that had room to grow (and grow it did). But that also placed him next to the Honolulu Fish Auction, which harvests 3% of the Pacific catch and supplies him with a steady stream of fresh-as-can-be fish.
Chaize shops at the adjacent auction daily at 5:45 a.m., feeding seasonal specials. Nico’s is incredibly popular, routinely serving 700-800 plates per day at lunch. Breakfast was more basic, with vac pot coffee and customers ordering at the counter from wall mounted menu.
My smoky fried rice ($5.10) arrived in a massive heap, studded with ham, Portuguese sausage, bacon, kamaboko (fish cake) and scallions, seasoned and flavored with savory soy sauce and topped with a single fried egg. The container came with a compartment of fresh fruit salad, but really, that barely mattered when the other two compartments held myriad meats.
One of my tablemates ordered Fish & Eggs ($7), featuring two over-easy fried eggs, a healthy scoop of steamed white rice and a juicy, meaty filet of white albacore. Yes, that salad of melon and grapes made another appearance.
My introduction to loco moco – basically the Big Island equivalent to Salisbury steak, hamburger patties with gravy, fried eggs and rice – was days earlier at a restaurant in Hilo that has a claim to its creation, Cafe 100. Nico’s loco moco ($7.95) was even better (and better portioned), with juicy ground beef patties, a rich, flavorful gravy lightly sweetened with onion and a sprinkling of scallions.
It was good to receive good versions of Local Favorites, but looking at the “Fresh From the Sea” portion of the lunch menu brought about meal envy, with options like fried ahi belly and furikake pan seared ahi with ginger garlic cilantro dip. During our visit, Chaize was on the verge of moving to new building that will feature more dinner and a fish market. That means it will no longer require an early bird wake-up call or patience when facing a line to enjoy Nico’s food. Even better.
Note: This meal was complimentary as part of a media tour sponsored by the Oahu Convention & Visitors Bureau