With country charm and maritime appeal, old friend Chez Fish is a welcome sight along Betsy Kerrison Parkway near the roundabout approach to Kiawah and Seabrook islands.
Following several years of dormancy, this cheerful seafood market and café reopened under the watchful eye of plucky chef Rene Constantin, who ran the place from 2002 to 2004 and has returned to recreate this property where many restaurateurs remember buying fresh seafood in the 1980s.
With its original personality intact, Chez Fish retains the feeling of a village gathering place where locals stop to chat over a brimming bowl of mussels and glass of wine or pick up a couple of crab cakes for dinner on the way home, pausing just long enough to hear the news of the day. The fresh white exterior is marked by a courtyard herb garden, a reminder of the chef’s commitment to using local produce and seafood to create signature dishes that blend his years of experience cooking in Switzerland with Lowcountry specialties. Inside, a small seafood market display includes the daily catch as well as prepared takeaway items, with a few tables for quick bites or for accommodating guests waiting to be seated. The pleasant dining area is a collage of local art and bright red cloths against Provençal ochres and blues with comfortable tables anchored by cushioned banquettes and cozy corners.
We visited on a quiet midweek evening and our server, Swann, made us feel right at home, chatting about the menu and the chef’s specialties with informative details. The recommended soups made excellent starters, including our choices of creamy celadon potato leek and thick, rich she-crab bursting with roe flavor. Both were enjoyed with crusty bread, butter, and glasses of Pouilly Fuisse chosen from the small but adequate wine list. Several salads are offered, and our selection brought fond memories of France with its central crown of Dijon-dressed greens and a generous crispy golden goat cheese crouton. Splashes of balsamic dressing around the perimeter, shredded carrots, and red pepper added flavor and color to this attractive display reflecting the chef’s care in plating.
The list of entrées included a predominance of fresh seafood options, along with several pastas and a few meat dishes. The grilled seafood platter was highly recommended, along with the pecan-encrusted black grouper and a curried shrimp and scallop medley with sweet pickled cucumber and sour cream. Proximity to the ocean and thoughts of the impeccably fresh seafood enjoyed here many years ago inspired our ultimate selections of sautéed local flounder and linguini with white clam Bolognese. We were not disappointed. The pan-seared flounder was delicious, its delicate goodness enhanced by the tangy contrast of lemon and piquant capers in a classic beurre blanc sauce. Finely julienned carrots and green peppers, along with well-seasoned rice pilaf, completed this satisfying dish perfectly. My Italian friend was delighted as well with the linguini and white clams, the tender minced shellfish prepared in a superb Bolognese sauce with added cream that made it uniquely special. For dessert, chocolate praline mousse with good coffee fortified us for the drive back to the city.
For those who had the pleasure of experiencing Chez Fish in its former life, the good news is that the food still offers the perfectly simple qualities of days past and the collaborative exchange with the local community remains alive and well. As confirmed during our brief conversation with chef Constantin as he made his dining room rounds, the plat du jour will always include the seasonal daily harvest and the joie de vivre of well-prepared food. While the menu is short and sweet, we found the experience to be large in spirit and reward.
3966 Betsy Kerrison Pkwy.,
John's Island, SC
Daily, 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.
Average dinner entrée: $20