Pupu in Paradise

I got crabs at Nick's and loved it

Not that this menu is overly complicated. It's based on Polynesian, Thai, and continental cuisines, ranging from Hong Kong crab cakes, egg rolls, and steamed seafood dumplings to "Greek chicken à la Sammy Davis, Jr." (artichokes, capers, Greek olives), a dish he debuted in 1968. The fish is fresh, and the preparations at their best are fairly simple. The chef starts you out with multigrain crackers and a tasty scoop of smoked mahi dip (happily replenished on request).

Never does the kitchen stinge on the seafood — my $35 crab claws (an appetizer; $70 as a main course) were gigantic and filled with delicious white flesh, served over ice to keep them frigid on a plate featuring an arched faux-scorpion tail. The claws had been carefully cracked for us, and the meat we swiped out with our miniature fork went down exceedingly easily with mustard sauce. We got hot towels afterward to wipe the crab-eating grins off our faces. A cold seafood salad with soba noodles and sesame dressing ($25, a main dish) was loaded with minced crab and fingernail-sized shrimp, tossed with diced carrots, celery, red and yellow peppers, and Chinese cabbage; it was topped with a butterflied fried prawn. After a meal-sized bowl of perfectly hot and sour wonton soup with spicy pork strips ($9), we couldn't eat more than a third of an absolutely divine piece of steamed halibut ($29).

Apart from the crabs, that halibut was our favorite dish. Delicately steamed in a broth of ginger, sesame oil, and cilantro along with wilted spinach, and topped with chunks of grilled pineapple, it was delectable and luscious; and, like some piscine version of Hawaiian heartthrob Tia Carerra, just barely exotic. I didn't fall as easily in love with our swordfish Stavros ($32). Maybe it's a personal quirk, but I've yet to find entirely satisfying any fish dish topped with cheese. In this case, a nicely seared fillet found itself somewhat overwhelmed with feta-dill-hollandaise sauce. Swordfish is a robust animal, and if any fish could woo a feta sauce, it would be this one. But as much as I loved those whipped potatoes and the glowing little handful of asparagus, beans, and carrots, I wouldn't order this entrée again.

Joe Rocco


Nick's Fishmarket of Hawaii, 150 E. Palmetto Park Rd., Boca Raton. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday 5:30 till 10 p.m.; Saturday-night dance party with small plates till 2 a.m. Call 561-393-9880.
Closed Location

The pupu platter ($26, serves two), an appetizer, works as a trip back in the time machine: All it needs is a cocktail plashed into a coconut shell and festooned with paper umbrellas and a curly straw. So it's fun and varied — you get barbecued spare ribs, steamed fish dumplings, Hong Kong crab cakes, egg rolls, and butterflied shrimp with three dipping sauces of accelerating heat. I really took to those barbecued spare ribs dusted with five-spice powder, and we dug the steamed fish dumplings. The rest of the platter was as pleasant as anything you'd find at an above-average Chinese restaurant.

Another trip through our halcyon childhoods: pineapple upside-down cake for dessert ($10). Although it lacked the crusty bottom layer of sugar like my mommy used to make it, the cake was buttery and oozing with sweet goo; the slightly pungent sour of pineapple smoothed the gack off all that candy coating. I'm not sure I've ever seen pineapple upside-down cake in a restaurant before, but I'm grateful to find it.

With its curvy lines, low lighting, pretty customers, and over-the-top service, you just can't resist Nick's. It's like being relentlessly romanced by a dude you aren't sure about at first, but the guy just grows on you. Prices here are high, and the menu is free of great risks or experiments. But if the food is a little old-fashioned, so is Nickolas' definition of hospitality. Digging a salty chunk of meat out of its shell while the man himself stops by to refill your champagne glass would make any girl feel less crabby.

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