nick’s fishmarket at the fairmont kea lani…it’s about way more than just the fish

It’s a given the chefs at Nick’s Fishmarket know how to put out a mean piece of fresh island fish. But this restaurant is no one trick pony: their inspired menu will have you wishing you could order one of everything. I know I surely did.

With my hubby unexpectedly under the weather, I recruit my 21-year-old son, Tyler, to accompany me to Nick’s. He’s a notoriously finicky eater, so I slyly mention two of his favorites—Caesar salad and steak—are on the menu. Sold!

Nestled below the lobby at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Nick’s overlooks the swimming pool, a graceful grove of palm trees, and the shimmering ocean, making it an exquisite spot to experience an enchanting Maui sunset (more on that later). Outdoor seating is under bright blue awnings and market umbrellas; “indoors” the décor is subtly Mediterranean with gold faux finish walls and rustic light fixtures. Soothing island-style music contributes to the relaxing ambiance.

Server Travis presents lahvosh seasoned with a hint of cayenne, and slices of whole wheat bread accompanied by butter seasoned with sea salt, to rev up our appetites. The cocktail menu contains plenty of martinis and specialty drinks—I go with the Molokini Monkey ($9), made with Myers’s original dark rum, Starbuck’s coffee liqueur, fresh bananas, pineapple, and coconut. The icy concoction proves perfect for a warm evening.

With tempting selections on the appetizer menu like Ahi Tiger Eye Sushi ($17), Lump Crab Cake ($19), and Fresh Oysters on the Half Shell ($20), it’s difficult to choose just one apiece, but Tyler orders the Kalua Pig Pot Stickers ($13), while I decide to try the Escargot Sandwich ($16). Tyler dives into the pot stickers, which are surrounded by a brightly colored caramelized Maui pineapple curry sauce. Shredded carrots along with red and green cabbage provide the crunch factor. My escargots are nestled among sautéed baby spinach and oyster mushrooms in layers of flaky puff pastry topped with garlic butter and gorgonzola foam. It’s a rich, earthy dish that tastes every bit as good as it smells.

Salad choices are thoughtfully conceived: the Greek Maui Wowie ($14) appeals to me and, of course, Tyler goes for the gold standard—the Caesar ($12). Aptly named, the Maui Wowie totally wows me with its marvelous creativity and taste. A healthier version of a chopped salad, it’s an attractive mound of diced Maui onions, tomatoes, avocado, romaine, feta, and bay shrimp. I happily devour the entire portion. Tyler’s Caesar consists of individual baby romaine leaves stacked to form a circle. Every leaf is nicely dressed, and sizeable parmesan shavings, whole roasted garlic cloves, and herb croutons serve as tasty garnishes. I practically have to wrestle the plate away from Tyler so I can have a sample.

Travis’s explanations of the entrees are flawless and enticing. When he describes the Day Boat Catch (monchong—$42), I’m hooked! (Pardon the pun.) Tyler orders the filet mignon ($40), medium rare. Other appealing entrees include Moroccan Spiced Pacific Salmon ($32), Ahi au Poivre ($44), Rack of Lamb ($42), and Roasted Chicken Breast with fontina and prosciutto stuffing ($30). This evening, Nick’s is also offering a four-course wine pairing menu featuring vintner Charles Krug ($100 per person).

As sunset makes its entrance, so does a loin cloth-clad male who deftly blows a pu (conch shell) and lights all the tiki torches. A warm pink and orange glow forms over the ocean as our entrees arrive.

My monchong is presented with buckwheat soba noodles in Maui pineapple ponzu and sizzling peanut oil, Hana fern shoots, and hearts of palm. The fish is cooked to perfection with a pleasantly crisp outside and succulent interior, and the creamy soba noodle preparation complements it nicely. I ask Travis to recommend a wine, and he brings a glass of 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling ($10). It’s fruity and smooth, and pairs well with my entrée.

And speaking of wine, Nick’s has an amazing wine list! In fact, it’s won numerous Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence, and it’s easy to see why: it runs the gamut from sparkling wines and champagnes, to pages and pages of foreign and domestic reds and whites. There are even selections from the personal wine cellar of Nick’s Chairman Jiro Noguchi.

Tyler’s filet mignon is generously sized and has a nice char. It’s slathered with a savory tomato goat cheese pesto, and sits atop a grilled vegetable medley—asparagus, carrots, eggplant, and yellow zucchini—and roasted red potatoes. What more could a self-proclaimed carnivore want? Dessert, of course!

Although Tyler swears he’s too full to eat another bite, he polishes off nearly all his Chocolate Decadence ($13). It’s a milk chocolate mousse with roasted almonds and chiffon cake, covered in chocolate ganache and served a la mode. My Homemade Apple Pie ($13) is a round “personal pie” that could easily serve four persons. It’s drizzled with caramel and also served a la mode.

Just as our desserts are a perfect ending to a delightful meal, the sunset is performing its finale just as darkness settles in with shades of purple punctuated by gray clouds. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

–heidi pool

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