A Culinary World Tour In Niu Valley

Jo McGarry
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Friday - May 19, 2006
| Del.icio.us | podcast Podcast | WineAndDineHawaii.com

For the past few years, my favorite bowl of French onion soup has been far from our home in Hawaii Kai; nevertheless, the drive to Mapunapuna was always worth it once I sipped the gloriously hot broth beneath a layer of melting Gruyere cheese. The creator of this warming bowl of soup is Nick Patchrapong, and his family-run restaurant, Nick’s Café, has just moved to East Honolulu and become Nick’s of Niu Valley.

While the name change may be subtle, there’s not much else about the unpretentious restaurant that has altered.

“People are calling and asking “Who’s Nick?” says Patchrapong of his new neighbors and potential customers, “and we’re telling them ‘come and see.’”

What you’ll find, if you venture to the former Swiss Haus in the Niu Valley Shopping Center, is a diverse menu that gives a whirlwind culinary world tour admidst the former Swiss Haus décor.

Having worked for almost 20 years in the hotel and restaurant business in Honolulu, Patchrapong has learned dishes from almost every culinary culture - and most of them are on the menu.

“These are all dishes that I learned over the years, and they have become favorites of our customers,” says Nick, who adds that almost none of the recipes is written down, but rather carried in his head.

The onion soup is exceptionally good - and I think as enjoyable as any at finer restaurants. At $4.95 for the soup and a large order of really good, crispy, dripping-with-garlic-buttered bread, it’s also a deal. But then most of the menu items here are. It’s not all that fancy, and those who frequented Swiss Haus will recognize the décor and the furniture from the restaurant’s previous incarnation. The lunch menu offers salads and sandwiches and that now-famous soup. There’s a very good peanut broccoli salad in a honey mustard dressing for $6.75, and a grilled chicken or Cajun chicken Caesar salad for $7.95, along with a selection of large, reliably good sandwiches that include a Reuben (pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Nick’s sauce served on grilled rye bread for $7.25) and a French Dip (roast beef on a toasted bun with homemade au jus) for $6.95.

But it’s at dinner that you really get the flavor of this diverse menu.

Hot entrees include everything from a 14-ounce N.Y. strip - served either Cajun-style, with teriyaki sauce, or Paniolo-style for $18.95 - black sesame seed salmon ($12.95), grilled mahi mahi ($12.95), spaghetti with homemade meat sauce ($9.95), chicken Parmigiana ($12.95), and the specials that Nick cooks up daily include sauerbraten with braised red cabbage for $9.95, veal cutlets for $12.95 and a catch of the day with a varying market price.

You can even have a taste of Thailand from about $8.95, with a selection of dishes that include Tom Yum soup, a basil stir-fry with beef, shrimp or chicken, and a “traffic light” curry that comes red, yellow or green (mild, medium or hot).

Nick’s is perfect for casual family dining, great for breakfast on the weekends and makes an interesting dinner option when you’re in the mood for Italian but your partner wants a taste of Thai.

Nick’s Niu Valley 377-5477

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