By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
A mesquite-grilled center cut of pork chop exhibited substance as well as style, the smoky, succulent meat topped with a sweet, apple-raisin chutney and resting upon corn grits flecked with yellow kernels -- a whole, wholesome, satisfying meal. Tempura bananas, a julienne of spiced cucumber threads, and a glossy orange "paw paw" sauce that tasted suspiciously like Saucy Susan duck sauce, on the other hand, served to obscure rather than elevate an otherwise fresh, juicy square of macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi.
A Caribbean-style bouillabaisse was inarguably cohesive, but the Alaskan crab leg, jumbo shrimp, thick sea scallops, mussels, clams, and overcooked lobster tail appeared to have been poached separately from the spicy, citrus-heavy broth and so were bland as the ocean. Mushy slivers of carrot and celery at one point must've contributed flavor to the base, but their limp texture added nothing at service time; "boiled garlic potatoes" were in fact "boiled water potatoes," which doesn't sound as good and doesn't taste as good either; and two croutons topped with saffron "rouille" were crusty not from being freshly toasted but from being old. Most diners around us seemed to have ordered a curried, sautéed rendition of some of the same shellfish stuffed into half a hollowed pineapple. Judging from the empty pineapples heading back to the kitchen, this probably would have been a savvier selection. So would a "surf & turf" with grilled, spiny lobster tail far more tender and tasty than its bouillabaisse counterpart and a petite, peppered, pan-seared filet of beef that was more tender and tastier still. A smattering of sautéed zucchini, yellow squash, and fingerling potatoes made for uninspired accompaniments.
Nikki trots out the same simply prepared desserts found elsewhere, like dulce de leche cheesecake, fruit cobbler, fancily flavored ice creams and sorbets -- not really the type of finish you want after sushi, tartars, and such. We closed out our meal with a roasted "sticky banana" presented partially in its peel, topped with mini-marshmallows, chocolate chips, coconut, and so many other sweets that it was less a dessert than a soft candy bar.
Nikki Marina succeeds as one undeniably fun and fabulous place to drink, snack, and hang out. We eat what we are.