Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
It was 1987, and I was on my first fancy dinner date with my then-boyfriend, Chris. We arrived at the hostess stand only to be told Chris didn’t meet the restaurant’s dress code: the requisite dinner jacket. I didn’t know it, but he was going to propose to me that night, and luckily for Chris (and me!), they said, “We have a jacket in the closet for, ahem, The Unprepared.” His 130-pound frame disappeared under the Dijon mustard-colored cloth that was laughably oversized and reached mid-thigh. I felt bad for his having to sport a coat in eighty-degree temperature, but the food was sublime.
Over the years, the dinner jacket has become a personal choice, not a fashion dictate. But at least one Wailea restaurant would certainly be worth the trouble: Nick’s Fishmarket, in the heart of Fairmont Kea Lani Resort. For twenty-one years, Nick’s has set a standard for tour-de-force service, masterful cuisine, and a wine selection second to none. Overlooking winding paths, water-lily gardens, and cabanas that look like miniature Taj Mahals, it’s an oasis made for romance. Sans dinner jacket, we arrive early to relax over cocktails: a fresh-juiced grapefruit Cosmopolitan for Chris, and for me, a blood orange Old Fashioned garnished with my favorite: Luxardo cherries. Nearly all the seats at the bar are taken; we’re not the only patrons eager to enjoy cocktail creations by bartenders Jason Lewis and Dave Save, who have worked a collective twenty-eight years at Nick’s. A few chattering mynah birds on the lawn fronting the restaurant discuss their day’s catch as we gaze at the sky’s changing colors. The resonant call of a conch signals the start of the torch-lighting ceremony, and as if drawn by a Pied Piper, laughing children follow at the heels of a malo (loincloth)-clad conch blower until he exclaims, “Aloha!” and disappears into the darkening night.
We settle in at our table, and a skillfully choreographed performance surrounds us. Head server Greg Holquin presents a basket of cheesy Parmesan-chile lavosh and whole-wheat baguette, served with a ramekin of butter sprinkled with pink ‘alaea salt, while Jared fills our glasses with sparkling water. “This lavosh is so good,” I say with a blissful sigh. Chris nods, stops chewing, and replies, “I have to stop before I fill up on it”—then bites into his second butter-slathered piece. Restaurant general manager and sommelier Doug Mossman arrives and proposes a chef-led menu, to which Chris and I happily consent. “Yes, no allergies here, so please . . . surprise us!”
He returns with a bottle of perfectly chilled CF chardonnay, and as he pours, says, “This semidry wine with citrus notes will go well with the first course of hamachi crudo with pink peppercorn-citrus vinaigrette and kalua pork potstickers in curry sauce.” I take my first bite of the crisp, pan-seared dumpling and tell Chris, “There’s just a whisper of pineapple in the curry. This could be one of my all-time favorite preparations for kalua.” The crudo and wine create an equally perfect pairing, as the wine’s acidity cuts through the fattiness of the hamachi.