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May 29, 2007 12:39 PM

Million Dollar View - Food to Match? (OB/San Diego)

Nick's at the Pier opened about a week ago in the space formerly occupied by Qwigg's. That is to say, upstairs at the foot of Santa Monica and Newport Avenues, on Abbott, less than a football field length from the Pacific Ocean.

The space has been rennovated with light woods and complimentary colors to provide a bright, open and airy feel. Best of all, the windows are finally clean enough to actually see the ocean. For unobstructed ocean views and views of the ever-colorful citizenry of OB, this location is really hard to beat. But...does the food match the view? In a word? NO, and unfortunately, not even close.

I stopped in for an impromptu lunch yesterday with a friend. They had a soft opening last week and are probably (I hope) still working out a lot of bugs. I had the Crab Cake Torta and my friend had the Tombo Sandiwch. Both came with an amazingly minisucle - as in why bother to put it on the plate it's so small - side of Asian slaw that was top-heavy with sesame seed oil, and a big pile o' fries. And cheap fries at that, all end cuts (which are about $10/case less expensive than regular cut fries), I seriously doubt there were more than 2 or 3 fries in the entire pile that were over 2" in length. Sorry, but for me, with fries, size does, indeed, matter.

But no matter, in spite of 2 bites of slaw and mini-fries, they were infintely better than either of our sandwiches. The crab cakes were generous in size but incredibly mushy, loaded wtih extenders of some kind, and after 3 or 4 bites so intensely strong and fishy, I couldn't finish even half the sandwich. What a waste of a good telera roll. The tombo sandwich sounded really good on the menu, what showed up was your basic tuna salad sandwich. It looked like it had been made with albacore canned tuna. Other than the mayo and onion in the sandwich it had no flavor whatsoever. I know tuna can be mild, but this was ridiculous. The tuna sandwich was, however, heads and shoulders better than my crab cake torta, which I think I can honestly say is one of the worst things I've eaten - no make that, tried to eat - since my return to SD in 2001.

I had a nice glass of Spanish Sauvingon Blanc and my friend had a glass of the locally produced chardonnay labeled "Nick's Cuvee". My wine was okay, hers was virtually undrinkable to the point that I wondered why even put it on the menu. It made Two Buck Chuck seem like a wold class, top of the line selection by comparison

2 glasses of wine, 2 sandwiches, tax and tip came to $40. Far, far, far too much money for what we got in terms of both the wine and the food. Now, to be fair, they have only been open a week and the early throes of almost any new restaurant are almost always hard. I like the location, I love the view and I really want this place to succeed. The service was friendly and yesterday was better than the food. One can only hope that the food eventually evolves to the same level as the service or beyond. Perhaps we ordered the wrong thing, perhaps the kitchen is still figuring things out, but whatever the reason, lunch yesterday at Nick's at the Pier was really not very good. I could have gotten a better meal for less at either Shades or Tower Too, which are located directly underneath Nick's. Hopefully, they'll get better as time goes by...

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  1. Hopefully...
    I used to go to the bar upstairs at the PB location quite a bit (i.e. when I was 21) and the "bar" type food was always acceptable for the price and for what it was. But downstairs, at the restaurant part, it was never very good. I was looking forward to the views from this new location but perhaps will stick to the bar food. Do they have a separate bar like the PB one?

    7 Replies
    1. re: jturtle

      Yes, there is a bar, a much bigger bar than Qwiggs had. The dining room faces due west, directly out to the ocean, the bar is to the left when you enter and faces northwest. There is a large square bar with seating in the center with booths and tables along the walls and scattered throughout. I think most probably have some sort of view. And there are at least 7 or 8 flat screen TVs on the walls, all were tuned to sports when I walked in. I liked the feel that the bar had and suspect that I'll spend some time there. It might be a good place to take in a Padres or Chargers game if you're not up to (or rowdy enough for) Chadwick's, South Beach or Gallagher's around the corner on Newport.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        Was this venue not taken over by the owner of 3th Corner? I thought I heard that somewhere.

        1. re: sdnativa

          Yep. I could have gotten infinitely better food and wine at 3rd Corner.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            What a dissapointment. The bad crab cake sandwich could have been a fluke but the inferior fries and wine selections, are not. I had high hopes for the place.

        2. re: DiningDiva

          I once heard that a restaurant critic will usually wait until after the first couple of weeks of operation of a new restaurant before writing a review and will usually visit several times to get a true feel for a place - especially before writing a bad review. I think this is a very harsh review for the first visit to a brand new restaurant in it's first week of operation.

          I had dinner at Nck's in the first days after it opened and had quite a different experience. First of all, the staff is very friendly and attentive and the views are the best in OB. When we sat down, we were immediately given a basket of very tasty bread and ordered the crab cakes. The crab cakes were a little spicy for my taste but had the same delicious corn remoulade as has been served at Thee Bungalow for years so I assumed the "over" spicyness is one of the kinks that will need to be worked out. For dinner, I had the shrimp and scallop pasta and it was very very good, the sauce had a sublte tarragon flavor that was really nice. To be honest, though, the scallop were a bit small. My thought was this is one of those differences between a $28 fine dining version of this dish. My dinner companion had the tortilla crusted mahi and thought it was a unique, well prepare dish which he thoroughly enjoyed. We we so full, we did not order dessert and we brought our own wine, so I can't comment on these. Overall I was very happy with the meal and the associated price.

          There was a thread recently on comparing different restaurants. As I see it, the restaurant owner(s) decide what niche they want the restaurant to fit in, then do thier best to fill that niche. This not only gives us different types of food, but different levels. Some days you want really wow food, some days nothing but an overstuffed burrito will do. Let's face it, food wise, Nick's is not trying set the culinary world on fire, i.e., they are not trying to compete with the food Cavaillon, Market or 1500 Ocean and neither are thier prices. They're also not trying to be a bistro like 3rd Corner. So sorry DinningDiva, although I find most of your posts quite interesting, to say you could have gotten better food at 3rd Corner is illogical. You could have also gotten a much better meal at Cavallion, Market or 1500 Ocean.

          Ed Moore, of Thee Bungalow (formerly) and 3rd Corner, is one of the partners of both Nick's at the Beach and Nick's at the Pier and has a quite a good reputation. I'm looking forward to seeing he and his staff take what was a formerly dark, dirty space with mediocore food to a new level. Give a guy a chance!

          1. re: bythenumbers

            You're absolutely right, a restaurant critic *would* wait several weeks, if not months, for a new restaurant to get open and settled before doing a review. I am not a restaurant critic, just a restaurant patron that can, on occasion, string together a few words that might make sense.

            I truly am glad that your experience there was better than mine. Hopefully, that's an indication that there's potential for success. You ate at dinner, I ate at lunch, could also have been 2 different crews in the kitchen. The crab cakes I had were certainly not spicy, in fact they were completely and utterly devote of spice and any flavor at all, other than extreme and unpleasant fishiness. In retrospect I should have taken a dose of my own advice and sent it back to the kitchen. It truly was inedible and I did no one any favors by not letting the kitchen and management know. The waitress saw that I did not eat the bulk of the sandwich and got a quizzical look on her face, yet she didn't ask, and I didn't tell. I should not have kept my mouth shut. How can a kitchen improve if they get no feedback about problems.

            French fries in which a good 90% were the size of the first joint of the index finger and two bites of slaw? The message that came through to me loud and clear was CHEAP, that they were trying to keep plate costs down. For $14.95 I expect more than inedible crab cakes, a dab of slaw and a plateful of french fry tips. And yes, for that money I could get a better meal at 3rd Corner. True the concepts are different, but at least at the 3rd Corner it would have been edible and a better value. Heck, for $15 I can go around the block and get better food at The Vine, but they're not open for lunch.

            I am well aware that Ed Moore is one of the principles in this operation, which makes my dining experience all the more disappointing, the food and wine should have been far better than they were. And I stand by what I said, the $40 we spent for lunch was not a good value for the quality of the food or wine we were served. It was certainly many degrees inferior to anything I've ever experience in one of his restaurants. As has been pointed out to me privately, I almost never write something negative about a place, or if I do it's often couched in terms that make it seem not so bad. There was no way to redeem what I was served.

            I love this space, it's got good energy, not to mention those fabulous views, I want them to succeed. I do intend to go back. My dining partner has flat out refused to go back at all and she's a regular diner at 3rd Corner and used to be at Thee Bungalow. Even though my lunch there was pretty lousy, I am looking forward to dinner and perhaps a happier experience. Trust me, I would LOVE to be able to rewrite and say, go eat there the food is as good as the view.

            1. re: bythenumbers

              I've been eager to try this place ever since this thread was started. We went to Qwiggs a grand total of one time when we moved to OB and never went back. It was such a dump, and what a waste of the panoramic view. So I really really wanted to like the new Nick's even as I was dreading the likely disappointment. We have so few choices in walking distance from our house. Our experience was pretty much consistent with bythenumbers' post.

              They have done extensive remodeling: the place looks great now with modern decor and really showcases the view; we were there as the sun was setting and into the evening, and the lighting is muted and romantic. The wine list was not as bad as what's on the online menu for Nick's in PB, but we stuck to beer this time. Ordered the crabcake app to share (I normally wouldn't order this but was on a mission to see how it compared to the other reviews!). I had the seafood pasta special, which was scallops in a mushroom/tarragon cream sauce, and the boyfriend had the stuffed chicken. The crabcakes were fine, not 100% crab (ie fillers) but definitely not fishy, and had a reasonable amount of seasoning. The corn sauce I could barely taste, though. I thought the pasta was very nice, not too heavy for a cream sauce, and the scallops looked normal size to me. Boyfriend liked his chicken. His mashed potatoes were as blah as I usually find them in restaurants, and he substituted slaw for the veg which he said was yummy, and a good sized serving. We were too stuffed for dessert and took half our entrees home. They're not ginormous but typical American restaurant overdone portion sizes.

              I have to concur with bythenumbers. The food was pretty much exactly what I would expect for the price. Not life changing, but certainly nice in the "I could top this at home but I really don't feel like cooking" sense. I actually thought the quality was on par with Third Corner (which is also nice but I have never been wowed by). I wish the wine list was better (it seems a crime in CA not to have good wine!) but we will explore that next time and see if we can find something. Or just bring our own for the $7.50 corkage.

              Our server was excellent. Not the typical blah service you get at most OB restaurants (including the Vine and 3rd Corner!). My boyfriend was in his chatty mood as he sometimes gets with waitresses and she kept up well (only a fraction of servers get his sense of humor). The lower echelons of waitstaff were very green and definitely have some kinks to work out. Clearly for some of them it was their first restaurant job. Possibly their first shift ever! But our server was nothing but professional and smoothed over the glitches.

              I feel we will likely become regulars here. This is a much needed addition to OB and they serve the full menu in the dining area until midnight, full menu in the bar area until 2am. VERY happy about that. The great service and the view would be enough to bring me back even if the food wasn't to die for, but I was pleasantly surprised.