Chef Nico Romo reveals Big Flavor at Nico’s Oyster Bar and the secrets to his incredible oysters.
Photography by Andrew Cebulka
Sidebar : “Maybe it’s the hint of pluff mud, waft of spartina grass, or salty liquor of brackish estuaries – our oysters taste like home.” Mike Lata, chef at two of Charleston’s finest restaurants, FIG and The Ordinary.
Lovers of Lowcountry oysters have savored their intensely briny, mildly sweet, creamy, delicate meat for centuries. We sing their praises when contrasted with the plumper, more watery relatives down in Apalachicola or up in Northern Virginia. We brag that nothing can compare to those from Charleston, the ACE Basin, the Broad River and the May. We count on them for our winter roasts around open fires, and rely on them to perform their age-old duties of filtering our waterways and protecting our banks from erosion.
With boutique local “selects” popping up in Lowcountry restaurants and new raw bars opening to showcase them, the world truly is our oyster. Relatively new on the scene is a modern and lively French oyster bar, NICO, 201 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, serving wood-fired seafood from French Master Chef Nico Romo. With both indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant takes full advantage of its proximity to Shem Creek and balmy Lowcountry temperatures.
Oyster fans will salivate over their vertical raw bar display with a built-in misting system that keeps the impressive lineup of shellfish the perfect temperature. The menu includes half-shell towers, baked oysters au Brie, and a dignified twist on oyster shooters using mildly smoky 12-year-old Scotch whisky.
NICO’s features several sauces to accompany their oysters.
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons Cognac
1 tablespoon Dijon
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
2 ½ cups canola oil
2 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor combine egg yolks, red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard and mix until combined.
While food processor is mixing on medium, slowly add the olive oil and canola oil.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined.
6 cups red wine vinegar
2 cups sherry vinegar
1 cup shallot, minced
2 tablespoons black peppercorn, finely ground
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
Mix all together lightly.
4 quarts organic ketchup
14 garlic cloves, minced
lemon juice from 3 lemons
2 cups prepared horseradish
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
3 tablespoons Worcestershire
5 tablespoons black peppercorn, ground
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup salt
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir with a spatula until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
Taste and season with salt, if necessary.
Baked Oysters with Brie
Yield: 24 oysters
For the oysters:
½ quart heavy cream
2 tablespoons of white wine
8 oz. whole brie cut into 1-inch blocks
2 tablespoons egg yolk
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, microplaned
1 shallot, julienned
For the Beurre Manie
½ cup flour
½ cup softened butter
For the composed oysters:
24 oysters on a half shell
2 large boxes rock salt
For the brie sauce:
- In a large pot, bring cream and white wine to a boil. Add brie one block at a time. Still gently until melted.
- Add the beurre manie (recipe provided below). Using hand mixer, mix on medium speed until evenly incorporated.
- Make sure sauce is hot, but not boiling. Slowly add the 2 tablespoons of egg yolk.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temp.
- Once cooled, add parsley, garlic and shallots. Refrigerate for 6 hours or until mixture hardens.
For the Beurre Manie:
- In a large bowl, add flour and butter.
- Knead together with hands until the flour is coated in butter, creating a dough.
To compose the oysters:
- Put oven on Broil.
- On a large pan sheet, cover bottom with layer of rock salt. Set oysters face up on rock salt, so they don’t fall over.
- Using a spoon, cover each oyster with the Brie Sauce.
- Place oysters in oven until the cheese caramelizes, approximately 5-10 minutes, depending on oven.
- Serve immediately.