Fish forgoes French past for Asian-influenced future 

C'est La Vie

click to enlarge Tempura whole seabass is topped with a chili lime glaze at FISh

Jonathan Boncek

Tempura whole seabass is topped with a chili lime glaze at FISh

Previously helmed by French Master Chef Nico Romo, King Street's formerly French-Asian influenced Fish Restaurant is now in the hands of Chef David Schuttenberg, and with this change, most of the French has been dropped from the equation.

Some things remain the same, of course. DIY-ish seaglass chandeliers? Check. Ample stack of two-ton, toe-crushing steel menu binders? Check. Steam bun fry bread-esque starter? Check.

Even the flash-fried sweet chili calamari ($12) made the cut. The round rings are lightly battered and crisp, and arrive tossed in a liberal helping of Thai sweet chili sauce. Savory and sweet with a pleasing deep fried crunch, it's no wonder this reliable starter has remained on the menu.

The charred octopus ($12) also abides. The presentation has been slightly revamped under Schuttenberg, but still makes a singularly dramatic entrance. Ridiculously good-looking, the large tentacle is at once lemony, smoky, and tender, the meat perfectly prepared. But the joy stops there. Surrounded by large chunks of carrots and sunchokes, as well as green picholine olives, everything is a bit too savory and way too carrot-y. The hunks of sunchoke, through no fault of their own, have the look of fingerling potatoes gone bad and the unexpectedly crisp crunch is similarly off-putting.

But when a bite of said octopus is paired with the greens from the Thai beef salad ($12)? Stop the press and run this headline: Salad Changes World. Although perfectly cooked and tender, the accompanying beef is utterly upstaged by the bright, spicy, and acidic mélange. Bringing a punch-you-in-the face level of flavor, the Thai basil, cilantro, spring greens, and peanuts mingle with a vibrant vinaigrette quite possibly made from unicorn tears and sunshine. There's a lingering heat at the finish and a lingering longing in my heart. I wish someone would make me one of these exuberant salads every day for the rest of the my life.

click to enlarge A decadent 72-hour short rib arrives with potato rounds and charred green onion - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • A decadent 72-hour short rib arrives with potato rounds and charred green onion

I could probably go without ever eating another prawn and citrus salad ($12), however. A massive pile of red frill mustard greens is heavily dressed in an avocado crema and citrus vinaigrette. Very weedy, very woody, and aggressively bitter, my dining companion noted that the lacy, dark purple stems were "like eating grapes, with the grapes gone." A salad this contentious needs an assertive partner, and the three halved poached shrimp and small sections of grapefruit and blood orange are respectively too mild in flavor and scant in portion to help.

The scallops ($16), in contrast, are sublime. A decidedly non-Asian offering, when the plate first arrived featuring just two of the seared mollusks, it was with a certain amount of scorn that I pondered to myself, "I wonder what an eight dollar scallop tastes like?" As it turns out, pretty damn good.

The restrained, elegant dish starts with a buttery turnip puree that's as delicate as a dream. Topped with the sweet, seared scallops, a small scattering of pickled apple cubes keeps things bright and fresh. Compared with the Thai beef salad, it's a veritable yin yang of contrasting textures and flavors.

Service is knowledgeable and friendly, but can be a bit pokey. Generally, it suffers from what I've come to think of as "the usual" — hot and heavy at first, but hard to come by once the entrees drop. Busy yourself and pass the time by considering the quirky ambiance. White pleather banquettes and wedding reception-esque ceiling drapes dominate the main dining area, while a hip soundtrack emanates from the popular, bustling bar near the entrance.

Speaking of which, the bar serves up an eclectic mix of $10 cocktails, including the Wolf of King Street. With its bitters start and ginger beer finish, this bourbon-based drink goes down easily. Meanwhile, the blue-hued Spa Treatment is sweet and citrusy, with herbal notes that come on in the finish.

click to enlarge Scallops are served with a turnip puree, dried apple, and miso - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Scallops are served with a turnip puree, dried apple, and miso

Before disappearing for a while, our personable waitress steered me toward the whole fish (MP/$31) with the promise that it "doesn't have eyes." In fact, the whole black sea bass arrives lightly battered and fried, and is served under a deep blanket of Thai basil and cilantro, perhaps to hide the lingering reminder of mortality still visible in the perky flip of its fried tail. Don't let the deconstructed salad appearance confuse you: The dish is refreshing — an edible harbinger of spring on a winter menu — but it's also a bit tricky to navigate and filled with pin bones. Caveat emptor.

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The wonton noodles ($24) confuse me. Although the thin, fried egg noodles were visually reminiscent of my favorite family-style Hawaiian dish (house cake noodle), this preparation is bland with no real discernable flavor or purpose. It's served with an accompanying ramekin of Sichuan pepper sauce, but the addition of the smoky, peppery paste didn't really bring things together. The four accompanying shrimp wontons are rich with sesame oil and generally pleasant, but not enough to render this a satisfying entree.

In contrast, and somewhat surprisingly considering the restaurant's name, the sous vide 72-hour short ribs ($29) are something quite special. Rich and decadent, the fat is beautifully imbued into the tender meat. Served with a small mountain of pan-fried potato rounds, a charred green onion, and a rich umami sauce, seafood haters will find safe harbor here.

With its seafood-focused menu and strong grasp on French and Asian flavors, Fish Restaurant has long been a King Street favorite. While the new incarnation seems to be taking things in a more Asian direction, it also appears to be honoring the legacy of some of the familiar flavors former diners have come to expect. As for me, keep bringing the bright acidity and other bouts of exuberance, and I'll be back to collect some of that Thai salad dressing to take to a lab.

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