The opening of 39 Rue de Jean, the latest venture by Charleston-based Holy City Hospitality, was delayed for so long that I occasionally forgot the French restaurant was even coming to Savannah.
But 39 Rue de Jean finally opened in November, and a friend and I finally made a visit for dinner. We found both the food and service stellar.
39 Rue de Jean is at 605 West Oglethorpe Ave. in the northeast corner of the sprawling Embassy Suites, which is just north of the SCAD Museum of Art and across Oglethorpe from the Joe Murray Rivers Jr. Intermodal Transit Center.
It seems that many readers of this column have not seen the extensive development in that area west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but you can remedy that with a trip to Savannah's newest French restaurant.
We entered via the corner at Oglethorpe Avenue, but the hostess stand is adjacent to the hotel lobby. We had made a reservation via Open Table and were promptly seated at a comfortable, quiet booth for two in the bar area.
It will be interesting to see if the bar business picks up. I can imagine dropping by for mussels or sushi, but the bar was almost completely quiet on the night we were there.
Chef Drue Longo's menu has obvious similarities to the menu for the Charleston location of 39 Rue de Jean, but it's clear that Longo will be routinely experimenting with new dishes and preparations. I'm excited to see how the menu evolves.
While we were still deciding on our main courses, we split an order of mussels in a cauliflower cream sauce ($14). I would have been happy just eating mussels all night - they can be prepared in six different ways - but that wouldn't have made this a very interesting column.
So often, mussels can be slightly overcooked and can get a little rubbery. But the ones we ordered were perfect.
Next up for me was a fried goat cheese salad ($11), which had some lovely greens and was much larger than I anticipated. At my server's suggestion, I had duck confit added to the salad - a highly recommended option that turns the dish into a meal.
For my main course, I had the fish of the day (market price varies), a red snapper prepared with the head on and served upright, as if it had just been swimming moments before. Another beautifully prepared dish.
My dinner companion had the wild mushroom crepes ($19), which were as rich and flavorful as one might expect.
We certainly didn't need dessert after all that food, but we split a scrumptious chocolate pot de crÃ¨me.
39 Rue de Jean also has a really nice and not overly large cocktail menu. If you're a brown liquor drinker, I would especially recommend the Bourbon Nouveau. There is an extensive wine list.
The prices were surprisingly moderate, I thought. We didn't order anything from the sushi bar, but most of the rolls are under $10. Most of the entrees are priced from $24 to $28.
Since we ate and drank so much and so well, our bill for two came to $165, but you could have a fine meal for dramatically less than what we spent.
The restaurant's marketing led me to expect an intimate space that might feel like a stereotypical French bistro, but the newness of the materials and sheer scale of the interior give 39 Rue de Jean a more contemporary feel.
As I said at the top, 39 Rue de Jean is part of Holy City Hospitality. That restaurant group's Charleston properties include 39 Rue de Jean at 39 John Street, plus the nearby restaurants Coast Bar and Grill, Michael's on the Alley, Victor Social Club, Vincent Chicco's and Virginia's on King.
We have some successful restaurant groups in Savannah, for sure, but I don't think we have any that own so many properties in such a dense cluster as Holy City Hospitality owns near the intersection of King and John streets in Charleston.
Longtime readers will already see that 39 Rue de Jean furthers a number of trends for the Savannah restaurant scene. As local tastes change and as culinary tourism grows, we are going to see increasingly ambitious entrepreneurs and chefs enter the Savannah market.
City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.