At USS Nemo, fish reigns supreme. Chef Nick Mercier gives us the scoop on why he prefers surf over turf.
If you’re a piscivore, then Nick Mercier is the chef for you. This guy loves fish so much, you’d think he was a shark in a former life. And if you have a hankering for some Chilean sea bass, well, then landing a reservation at USS Nemo is like dining in the lost city of Atlantis with King Poseidon. Originally from Quebec, Mercer grew up with fish: “Fishing was my passion when I was young,” he says. “Where I am from, in the summer there are so many beautiful fish; it is what we ate.” That passion, brought down to Naples in 2000 with the opening of USS Nemo, has been tantalizing tongues ever since.
The menu at USS Nemo is a walk on the wild side. The exotic parings of ingredients and fish make for a delicious and inventive meal with distinctive Asian undertones. The Miso Sea Bass is one of the most talked about dishes in Naples and deservedly so. On the menu since day one, it is as if the restaurant grew around this single dish. “I came up with the sea bass because of one of my favorite dishes I had in 1993 at Nobu in New York: black cod with miso,” Mercier says. “For me, it was a revelation. But when I started the concept of Nemo, I didn’t want to use the same fish, so I went with sea bass.” And we are glad he did. Diving deep into his Quebecois roots, Mercier sweetened the dish’s glaze with maple syrup to give it that twist that has Naples diners under its spell. Chef Nick Mercier took a moment from the kitchen to talk with NaplesIllustrated.com about why fish has his heart.
NI.COM: What is it about fish that makes you so giddy?
MERCIER: I love fish. You can do so much with fish, it’s endless. You can play with the sauce, the texture, different combinations and complements; it is very fun.
How do you come up with the dishes for Nemo?
I experiment a lot. First I’ll draw the plate, what I want to assemble: the texture, the price point, and then just experiment. You may like one direction while another goes nowhere and you have to start over.
For instance, the summer menus, you have to try to go on the lighter side; you won’t sell as many mashed potatoes and braised meats as you would in the winter. So in the summer we give the menu a twist and mess with salad compositions. Certain fish get certain dressings; we might add some grilled polenta or tabbouleh to a plate, and wow, it’s summer!
What are some of your favorite ingredients?
I like stuff with a lot of personality. One of my favorites is garlic. I love garlic … but not too much, just a little. It’s nice because you can crush it, chop it, slice, whatever. I really like to slice it with a truffle slicer; it keeps the oil in the garlic but gives you a very, very thin sliver so it is not too strong but you can still see it. It adds a nice texture and flavor.
What is one of your favorite parts of creating a dish?
I really like butchering the fish. When I order sea bass, it comes fresh and whole. So I have to skin it, fillet it and then cut it into portions. They have to be identical portions so they cook in the same time, so it needs to be precise. If you respect the fish, like what you do from the beginning through the end, it is a special thing. If it is not the right fish—frozen or second quality—I know whatever I do with the presentation, the end vision will never be as good.