“People in Jacksonville don’t appreciate good food.”
That’s what everyone told Scott Alters from the day he decided he wanted to open his own restaurant at age 15 until the day he returned to the city at age 30 with plans to do just that. Together with his now wife, Gabrielle, Alters partnered with the Medure Brothers Culinary Concepts restaurant group to open Rue Saint Marc in 2017. With a menu that changes as often as two to three times a week, the idea behind the restaurant has always been fine dining in a casual atmosphere that showcases the freshest, local ingredients. But it wasn’t until earlier this year, when the pandemic turned the restaurant industry on its head, that the Alters’ finally decided to present their concept the way they’d always intended. “We were just waiting for the right time,” Alters explains.
The Rue Experience, a five course prix fixe tasting menu featuring hyper-seasonal, mostly local ingredients with or without wine pairings, was born from this insight. The experience begins with an hors d’oeuvres designed to go with sparkling wine. But instead of champagne, you’re more likely to find an effervescent German Riesling, or perhaps even an obscure sparkling wine from Hungary paired with your Pommes Paillasson topped with smoked trout rillette and roe (or whatever that particular day’s selection happens to be).
Subsequent courses follow a standard but fairly loose format. There’s typically a shellfish course with a seasonal accompaniment that allows the protein to shine through without being overpowered. Think seared scallop with butternut squash-miso purée and chamomile-infused vinaigrette. Alters then likes to highlight fresh local fish like grey grouper perhaps. The meat course might be something slightly unconventional, say aged duck with locally-grown Murasaki potatoes, parsnip, and a sauce that features the beguiling, fermented flavor of black garlic. “Fantastic with red wine!” Alters exclaims. A typical dessert around this time might be a tart of thinly-sliced apples from nearby North Carolina brushed with brandy and butter, cooked down until super compressed, then scattered with candied pecans, a side of brown butter ice cream and drizzled with maple syrup. “The essence of Fall,” as Alters puts it.
It’s impossible to describe the visual appeal of each plate without doing them grave injustice. The presentation and the plating are impeccable but also an integral element of the experience itself. “They say you eat with your eyes,” Alters explains. “That’s fair enough, but I think the point of the plating is to get the guest to stop for a second and realize that this is something special so they can appreciate it before it’s gone.”
The wine pairings that accompany each dish are optional but add an extra layer of depth, delight, and discovery to the overall experience.“Part of the experience is exposing the guest to wines that we know are delicious that they may be otherwise hesitant to try,” he says, though beverages are his wife’s domain. “The tasting menu is a perfect opportunity for me to showcase some really fun stuff,” she says. “I try to keep stuff pretty exclusive.”
The Rue Experience may seem extravagant, but it’s actually quite approachable and won’t break the bank if you’re in the mood to indulge. The tasting menu costs $59 per person, plus $39 for the wine pairings. The kitchen is more than willing to accommodate for allergies or dietary restrictions, but give them a day or two’s notice for best results.
Rue Saint Marc
2103 San Marco Blvd | San Marco
This feature originally appeared as the Bold Bites entry in Void Magazine’s winter 2020 issue.