For the past five years collegiate nostalgia and fond memories have encouraged my patronage of 39 Rue de Jean, a French-inspired bistro located at 39 John St. in downtown Charleston. Considering my dining experience on Wednesday evening it will be a very long time before I visit again.
The start to the evening was unexpected and fabulous. The three of us arrived slightly before our 6:45 p.m. reservation to a bottle of rosé champagne chilling tableside. Lauren, one of Rue de Jean’s hostesses, had noticed (and remembered) my mom’s penchant for pink bubbly on our previous visit. That kind of service and attention is rare. Our server for the evening, Bobby, was exceptional. He was personable, boyishly charming and attentive. Before we had even ordered our meals our service had reached a five-star level.
My mother, true to form, ordered the Salade Frisée and the Moules Meurnière, her order every visit to Rue for the past five years. My friend, R, ordered the Braised Rabbit with white wine, crème fraîche, whole grain mustard and potatoes dauphinoise. I opted for the Duck Confit with Mediterranean rice, roasted beets, mache and orange balsamic reduction, although I substituted potato purée for the Mediterranean rice.
Our food arrived during our second bottle of rosé champagne, and our happy buzz wore off within the first few bites of our entrées. Out of the three my dish was by far the worst. The first bite and I was dying for water—did I order a salt lick accidentally? I took two more bites. As much as I hated to do it, I sent my Duck Confit back. Bobby handled the situation as well as one could imagine. He recommended that I try the Coq au Vin as a substitute and assured me that he would tell the kitchen to not be so heavy handed on the salt.
Moules Meurnières, when done well, are beyond fabulous. Shallots are sautéed until translucent and buttery, the pan deglazed with white wine and mussels added until the tender bivalves open. Though the mussels themselves are delicious, what remains at the bottom of the bowl is my favorite part. I have no shame in tearing pieces of crusty French bread to sop up and uncouthly slurp the intensely aromatic and flavorful broth that remains after the mussels are all gone. For a restaurant like 39 Rue de Jean to assault their mussels with salt, which come from the ocean, is going against French chef law. My mom didn’t touch a drop of the broth at the bottom of her bowl of mussels.
R’s Braised Rabbit was the least overly salted, but he still drank the most water that evening. His rabbit was pretty good, but his potato dauphinoise were raw. The first few layers were cheesy and properly cooked but the bottom half were cold. He left most on his plate.
It pains me that my favorite restaurant is no longer my favorite. Quite honestly it makes me angry more than anything else. Being heavy handed with salt is inexcusable. You’re a chef, taste your food! You should have confidence in every dish that leaves your kitchen—it is your livelihood and your trade. If you don’t think that your food is overly salted you should probably quit smoking (it dulls your palate) or simply trust that there is a reason your customers are habitually sending back their duck confit or duck confit hash. To the chefs of 39 Rue de Jean, please stop over salting your food. I want to come back. Your service is superlative, but your food, frankly, leaves much to be desired, except for salt.