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April 2009

WRITTEN BY: Patricia Agnew
PHOTOGRAPHS BY: Christopher Shane

The space is eco-conscious and the experience virtuous at the fresh new Fish in the Upper King Design District, where a renovation led by architect Reggie Gibson has expanded natural light and flow with added rooms, optimized outdoor space, and comfortable seating to bring soothing revival to this Charleston favorite. A host of regional artisans lend their charms as well—including Walhalla native Nancy Basket’s kudzu fishing basket light fixtures, master craftsman Franz Baichi’s purple heartwood bar, and artist Molly B. Right’s dazzling bottle-cap whimsy—and reclaimed aqua-colored glass shimmers in the breeze above the bar. The result is a pleasing group of rooms providing a perfect stage for the tempting handiwork of executive chef Nico Romo in tribute to local fish and seafood in the French-Asian style. A native of Lyon, France, Romo brings to this Patrick Properties restaurant more than a decade of culinary experience gained at Relais & Chateaux’s La Pyramide and Restaurant Pierre Orsi, the Peabody Hotel, and several distinctively upscale outfits in the Atlanta area. In a recent search for light fare and diverse vegetarian-friendly options, we decided to see whether Romo’s menu might fit the bill. Choosing a bottle of wine was easy with the assistance of friendly server Cari, who guided us in the direction of 3 Rings Barossa Valley Shiraz—a half-price treat on Monday nights. It paired well with the dim sum plate, a picture-perfect combination of duck confit and goat cheese steamed bun, snapper spring roll with ginger aioli, fried tofu with pineapple marmalade, and Thai chicken peanut roll with pad Thai sauce. There were no disappointments here, just a wish for more of the same. Gliding beyond the cheese plate served with dried-fruit-and-honey marmalade, we moved to petite plates including Wadmalaw tomatoes and mozzarella with an Asian twist: the warm cheese was panko-encrusted and served with Thai basil and sweet soy vinaigrette that was quite refreshing. Other intriguing choices that we decided to save for our next visit included steamed whole artichoke with mint lime dressing and steamed clams in sake, shallot, and coconut lemongrass broth. The chopped salad was a winning mix of romaine, scallions, cashews, sweet-and-sour rice croutons, and boursin cheese vinaigrette. Our first entrée, the pan-seared South Carolina vermilion snapper, was paired simply with a creamy rice cake, gingered haricots vert, and red curry sauce—a celebration of health and flavor. The “naked” fish of the evening, a daily fresh catch at market price, was pan-seared mahi mahi, equally uncomplicated yet delicious, served with snow peas and oyster mushrooms. While we easily navigated our way through our table’s gluten-free, vegetarian requirements with our server’s assistance, there were also plenty of options for carnivores, including steak, duck, and chicken. It was quite pleasant to be generously accommodated on all levels. There’s no doubt I’ll be returning soon for another round of our indescribably sensational dessert—warm ginger pear shortcake nestled in all its buttery goodness upon lemongrass cream. Topped with almond frangipane and chestnut ice cream, it was, as the menu states, a truly delicious “cobbler-esque dream.” Fish is a diner-friendly, locally committed establishment offering chef’s choices each evening; live jazz several nights a week; and patio, bar, piazza, first- and second-floor dining locations. The menu is a tribute to Lowcountry purveyors, and the website is a great source of information on regularly occurring fêtes, such as a recent dinner celebrating local fare that travelled less than 100 miles “from producer to plate.” Pair starters, salads, and sides for a satisfying, wallet-friendly experience.