Chef-owner Nico Chaize is going back to his French roots. While his longtime Nico's Pier 38 serves up fried ahi belly, furikake seared ahi, crab cake salad and loco moco with mushroom-onion gravy, the focus upstairs is bistro cuisine and dishes from Chaize's childhood in France.
What that translates to: amazing fresh seafood with heavy French influence. It's an elevated experience from Pier 38, for sure. The menu has a few carryovers from Harbor Restaurant, but showcases many new dishes on both lunch and dinner menus. At lunch you'll see a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches, while dinner highlights meat and seafood.
If you’re there for happy hour or dinner, start with a cocktail. Happy hour at the copper-top bar is daily from 3 to 6 p.m., and for a limited time you can score 10 percent off all bar food. Craft cocktails are prepared by mixologists and are inspired by regular customers and insider restaurant knowledge. So far, the vodka-based Iron Lady ($10) and vodka-matcha-yuzu Chotto Matcha ($12) have been popular.
The Iron Lady is Instagram-worthy and ideal if you like bitters. It also pays homage to a boat named Iron Lady, which Chaize gets much of his fish from. Matcha lovers will like Chotto Matcha's distinctive matcha flavor.
Here are some starters on the dinner menu:
Anyone who has eaten at Harbor Restaurant will remember this. The Spanish octopus is topped with olive oil and lemon and served over a bed of arugula. It’s chewy and flavorful without being rubbery.
This indulgent crab and artichoke dip is still as creamy, cheesy and comforting as I remember it to be. It's served with lavosh at lunch for $16.
This is the fresh ahi poke that Nico’s is known for. Your server mixes poke at your table, and you can customize by choosing from toppings like ogo, white and green onions, sesame seeds, sesame oil and kukui nuts.
Better yet, choose the ‘deluxe’ option and get all the toppings. The ultra-fresh fish mixed with everything makes this one gourmet poke bowl without the rice.
This light appetizer with refreshing flavors truly highlights the tender morsels of fresh fish, which on this day was kajiki. Plus it's aesthically pleasing.
Among entrees, the auction-fresh Hawaiian fish of the day ($38) is a standout. It’s prepared Chinese-style en papillote, a French technique of folding protein and vegetables in parchment paper and baking it, which lets the food steam in its juices. This is basically a twist on the classic Chinese steamed fish dish: The parchment paper is unwrapped tableside to reveal the steaming fish — on this day a snapper — which is then topped with black bean sauce. The fish is moist and flavorful, and the five-spice-scented sauce is pure magic. This fish is so tender I’d even eat it without the sauce.
Entree prices are overall friendlier than Harbor Restaurant, with dishes ranging from $29 to $45. The most expensive are the Surf & Turf ($45), Maine lobster (MP) and catch of the day (MP), with most entrees in the mid-$30s.
This famous French dish was invented by Troigros, a three-Michelin star French restaurant. It comes with a buttery, thick sorrel sauce. The salmon is incredibly tender, but needs the sauce for added flavor.
If you want something meaty, there are various steaks and pork chops. For $32, you get a 12-ounce pork chop that’s thyme-baked and served with brie sauce and creamy potatoes dauphinoise. The pork is firm and the dish overall is not as cheesy as I would like, though the potatoes are a good starchy side.
If you have room for dessert, order the chocolate mousse ($9) or salted caramel crunch ($6.50). The creamy, fluffy mousse is ridiculously decadent, perfect for any chocoholic. And I love the salted caramel crunch cake, which I’ve had many times at Nico's downstairs restaurant.
No matter what you eat or drink, sunset views of the harbor and quietly bobbing fishing boats are stunning. Nico's Upstairs Steak and Seafood is a destination worth stopping for if you're looking for a spot to unwind over great seafood away from the hustle and bustle.
Finally, if you’re looking for a Sunday brunch buffet that’s not in Waikiki, Nico’s Upstairs has one that's $32 per adult and $22 per child ages 12 and under. This is brunch with a seafood twist — everything from deluxe poke and seafood jambalaya to brown-sugar-rubbed prime rib with au jus and horseradish cream, and assorted pastries. The brunch buffet is at Nico’s Upstairs only, and you can only make reservations for parties of eight or more.
Nico’s Upstairs Steak and Seafood
1129 N. Nimitz Hwy.
Daily 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.
Happy hour daily 3-6 p.m.
Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m.