Seasonal In Savannah

My seen-it-all, moving and shaking Savannah friends are shocked: A restaurant they’ve never heard of? Though they live nearby, we opt to drive – the restaurant is in an edgy, still-developing part of the historic district, off Forsyth Park. But as we pull up, we’re drawn into the subtle, low-key lighting of this former bank (one room is the cork-lined vault), the pebble-floored patio out back and, within a few minutes of our seating, the professionalism of the wait staff (often tricky in Savannah, where the labor pool is derived largely from SCAD students).

Judging from the crowd, Savannah is beginning to discover Local 11 Ten, which opened in April. The dining room burbles with lively conversation – and tables are spaced far enough apart that you don’t have to hear your neighbors. The wine list reflects the menu’s Mediterra-nean influences, with lots of French, Spanish and Italian labels, including a light, summery albarino (Campus Stella 2005, at $9 a glass) and a chewy pinot noir (Bouchard Aine, $10).

The concept is simple enough to bore some foodies: seasonal, local ingredients in innovative dishes using traditional European methods. (Chef Keith Latture has cooked at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead’s Dining Room and Miami’s Americana.) But it’s a breath of fresh arugula in Savannah, where a strong local dining scene nevertheless suffers from sameness (exposed brick; shrimp and grits).

At Local 11 Ten, the “think globally/eat locally” concept translates to a delectable appetizer of Georgia white shrimp baked in garlic and white wine with smoked paprika; a green salad with herb-spiced pecans, peak-of-the season blueberries and ricotta salata cheese shavings; paper-thin charcuterie, including prosciutto and braesola.

“If my guy says, ‘I’m going fishing tomorrow,’ the snapper is from him,” Latture says. “If not, it’s from somewhere nearby. The clams are dug at Sapelo. In winter, we get oysters.” Produce, too, is local, much of it organic.

As strong as the first bites are, they’re merely supporting players for the entrées – a square of grilled black grouper with warm, smoked grape tomatoes, machoux (Cajun corn salad), avocado and corn purée; a ubiquitous but thoroughly worthwhile hanger steak, sliced thin to show its medium-rare interior, with crisp fries and a dollop of bordelaise sauce.

They were delicious, but the other two dishes were revelations: Tender, flavorful roast Ashley Farms chicken breast with confit thigh, Yukon gold potato purée and a wedge of roasted radicchio, dribbled with jus, brought to mind the French respect for the lowly yardbird. The table favorite: That red snapper, with couscous-stuffed eggplant with almonds, zucchini and tapenade, in a pool of sweet-salty caper-raisin sauce.

Desserts, we found, were thoughtful and interesting, but didn’t quite hit our sweet spots: A trying-too-hard, deconstructed napoleon (since removed from the menu), intriguing but ultimately disappointing beet cake, with chevre mousse, meyer lemon and hazelnuts (and why not go ahead and call it red velvet, so people will order it?), and a three-part chocolate dessert, of which only one part, the pot de crème, worked.

But those mild disappointments only indicate areas of future growth – even the desserts are, as we rightly guessed, the product of a young, talented recent graduate of a culinary school who’s still experimenting. I look forward to returning, and checking on his progress.

Local 11 Ten

1110 Bull St., Savannah


Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

Credit cards: All major.

Dress code: Sophisticated Southern urbanite.

Categories: Art of the Meal