One month after getting the keys to 64 Spring St., Bistronomy by Nico co-owners Nico Romo and Dominique Chantepie opened the French bistro after revamping the space previously occupied by Josephine. It would have been a quick turnaround even in normal times.
“I don’t think we’ve done that ever in our life,” said Chantepie. “He’s done some openings, I’ve done so many openings, but in one month, what we did out of the blue like this, I would’ve thought it was impossible.”
Bistronomy by Nico debuted on Nov. 20, serving playful plates like escargot rice dumplings, goat cheese spring rolls and lobster with candied ginger in a setting reminiscent of a Parisian bistro.
If there were two people capable of opening a French restaurant that would instantly dazzle diners, it was Romo and Chantepie, who both own successful French restaurants in the Charleston area. Romo was familiar with Chantepie’s wine bar, Bistro A Vin, and Chantepie frequently visited NICO in Mount Pleasant, where Romo serves oysters and wood-fired French fare. Eventually, a mutual friend introduced the two restaurateurs.
“I was looking for a small place to do a concept, and I was talking to a couple local bloggers to see what was going on downtown,” said Romo, who eventually stumbled on the space previously occupied by Josephine, a wine bar that permanently closed due to COVID-19. “When I came in, honestly, I saw the place and I was like, ‘This is beautiful.’ The location was pretty incredible, but I thought it was a little too much for me because I wanted to do something smaller.”
Chantepie was also looking to open a new spot — a wine bar, in fact — and the two realized the space only made sense if they worked together.
“I told him, ‘I’m not going in the kitchen anymore, and if you take care of the kitchen, I’ll be in the front,’” Chantepie said. “We didn’t have time to think about it.”
The restaurant’s swift opening required the restaurateurs to take some monetary risks to achieve their desired aesthetic, they said.
“It was a wine bar, so we wanted to make it feel like a restaurant,” Romo said.
That meant adding new banquettes, cabinets, chairs and artwork. Romo and Bistronomy executive chef Matt Ward also had to rearrange the kitchen, adding a walk-in cooler to allow for more storage.
The cuisine mirrors the vibrant atmosphere and draws on celebrated dishes from Romo’s 10 years at Fish, which closed in 2017 after 17 years on King Street. It’s approachable French cuisine with an Asian fusion twist, Romo said.
“There were a lot of dishes and food I was doing like the duck steam bun that I had,” Romo said. “I had a big following then for that food, which I do not do at NICO, which is more flat classic French with an oyster bar.”
Look for those duck steamed buns, tuna tartare with shrimp “chips” and a tomato and panko-fried mozzarella salad in the small plates section, while the entrees consist of plates like truffle chicken, cassoulet and scallops with coconut rice, all under $30.
Bistronomy by Nico might have opened quickly, but that doesn’t mean Romo and Chantepie cut corners, especially when it came to staff and guest safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My staff, they didn’t go out and do stupid things or mingle too much, and they protect themselves to protect us, because when one of them is sick, everybody’s job can be lost,” said Romo, who told the City Paper he hasn’t had a member of the staff at either of his restaurants test positive since the start of the pandemic. “We did a lot of training on that, but at the end of the day, it’s just about them doing what they can.”
Bistronomy by Nico’s menu will change moving forward under the direction Ward, and the space will continue to evolve — heaters were just added to the outdoor courtyard, which will eventually have a permanent cover to maximize outdoor dining capabilities.
“We’re building it to be a local place more than anything. Nico’s cooking, they’ve always been raving about it,” Chantepie said. “This is the goal, trying to turn a bad situation that we are living in right now to a positive situation.”