Summer comes early to Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and humidity can soar as soon as April. Nico Romo, culinary executive director of the 150-seat Fish and four other restaurants in the Patrick Properties Hospitality Group, accommodates hot weather appetites with lighter dishes. Regionally sourced seasonal seafood and produce assure that Fish’s French-Asian menu pays homage to Southern culinary traditions while staying ahead of the curve.
This month, Romo is getting in red porgy and flounder from Carolina waters. “I work with local fishermen who go out every week,” he says. “I cook all my fish on a plancha to keep it simple and tasting very fresh.” Romo prepares a signature smoked yellow curry sauce that he pairs with the flounder; rainbow carrots and asparagus are the accompaniments and savory potato, turmeric and basil dumplings complete the dish ($24). The porgy is also cooked on a plancha but gets a slightly different treatment—it’s served with quinoa, fava beans, local peas, mushrooms and truffle consommé.
Shrimp season is also in full swing, and there’s good availability of white shrimp now, red shrimp a little later. Scallops from Virginia waters are showing up on the menu, too, pan-seared and accented with avocado-coconut sushi rice, sunchoke and fennel quiche, sugar snap salad and tamarind reduction ($25).
“I work with several local farmers and each one delivers weekly on a different day,” says Romo. He’s currently sourcing mushrooms, asparagus, bean sprouts, fennel, peas, sugar snaps, strawberries and blueberries. Whatever is not readily available he purchases from his vendor, Limehouse Produce Company. The restaurant group also has a small herb garden at one of their nearby venues, Lowndes Grove Plantation, and Romo supplements with micro-greens shipped from The Chef’s Garden in Ohio. “I especially like Farmer Lee Jones’ micro lemongrass and micro cilantro for our signature French-Asian cocktails,” he reports.
Chef Romo’s culinary creativity was sparked by his two grandmothers—one Hispanic and one Italian—as well as his years spent growing up in France. “I didn’t know anything about Asian food until I discovered it when I moved to America,” he claims. Now it’s the inspiration behind some of Fish’s most sought-after summer dishes.