A little over a year ago two things happened in Savannah that are related in my mind. The first was the emotionally agonizing closure of our favorite local restaurant, The Florence. The second was my first, and only time, having dinner at The Grey. I wrote extensively about the former and nary a word about the latter. The reason being, The Grey has had so much national attention paid to it (Time magazine just became the latest to get in on the act) and I really have very few positive things to say about my experience in the dining room (the front Diner Bar is a different story.) I simply felt that a better restaurant, with a better chef had closed and what Savannah was left with was a showy disappointment.
Later the next year Husk finally opened in Savannah and has since had well publicized difficulties. I wrote about my own initial experience that was mixed at best. Later visits have only born out the impression that, overall, the place doesn't work. Like The Grey, the physical restaurant itself is beautiful, but the product leaves a lot to be desired. To add insult to injury, Sean Brock has left the Neighborhood Dining group and is no longer involved in any of the Husks (or Mineros, or McCradys for that matter.)
During all that time, something positive was rather quietly taking shape in the Savannah Restaurant scene (such as it is.) The incredibly talented chef from The Florence decided to stay in town and it wasn't long before he was announced as the chef proprietor of a new endeavor that was to occupy space in the now Hilton-less Desoto Hotel. A big sign in the window was put up proclaiming the 1540 with Chef Proprietor Kyle Jacovino. For almost a year this small kitchen under the talented hand of Chef Jacovino put out the most inspired and instagram-worthy culinary creations while demonstrating all along that the heart and soul of what had made The Florence great was reincarnated anew in downtown Savannah.
Yet, Savannah itself is unchanged and the forces that brought the destruction of The Florence had not dissipated nor disappeared in the year since. Not even a full year after 1540 Room had opened, the Desoto management showed Jacovino the door. You can see the threads of why this may have happened by reading between the lines of the press-release from the hotel. They want to do "farm-to-table Southern", or more literally they want to copy The Grey and the other hotel restos that bring in the tourists like Moss and Oak (the soulless place that won last year's burger week contest with a stereotypical and boring entry.) The new chef and his menu will no doubt feature some "inspired" take on pimento cheese and shrimp and grits. I could rail about the ignorance on display here, but I already spent those words eulogizing The Florence. Kyle Jacovino is what made the 1540 room exciting, and without it him it's bound to be unremarkable. The restaurant space is nothing particularly special. It was clean and bright with a nice unobstructed view to the kitchen. The chairs were relatively comfortable, and the small space wasn't too crowded, but at the end of the day it very much looked and felt like a restaurant in a hotel lobby.
All I can do now is show you the amazing meal we had on our last visit, which was a celebratory occasion so we went all-out, and hope that Kyle sticks around in Savannah.
The menu was structured similarly to menus we'd see at The Florence. Kyle continued to make outstanding pastas, and the cast iron octopus made the transition as well. The cheese section was a welcome addition, and on a separate menu were the deserts. I imagine the new menu sans Kyle will hew more closely to your typical appetizer-entree-sides menu and heavily feature brussel sprouts cooked in some non-traditonal fashion.
Since we were celebrating on our last visit, we ordered four of the Small plates, a pasta course, and one Big. The bread plate had been a feature at The Florence and often we'd just order that and a pizza, so we had to start with our old friend. The new version of the plate came with fresh pickles, which were perfect. Likewise, the octopus at The Florence had been my favorite, and the 1540 interpretation was perhaps the best version. We'd seen the tomato tart a lot on instagram and since a savory tart is a rarity in these parts, we decided to give it a try. Finally, as I've grown older I've suddenly realized mushrooms are amazing (I spent 30 years disliking them) and the opportunity to try Kyle's take on dashi (and cured egg yolk!) was too hard to pass up.
Everything was phenomenal, from the delicately artistic presentation to the literal explosion of flavors. It's hard to pick a favorite, but the mushroom dish floored me from first sip. It was complex and earthy, rich in umami and funk. The broth was poured over the dish when it was brought to the table to keep the mushrooms from becoming soggy, and the result was a perfect blend of textures. That broth was incredible, and I don't usually go crazy over liquids like some folks.
For our pasta we chose the rabbit tortellini, because how often do you see rabbit anything on a menu? It was hard not to inhale the whole bowl the second it was placed down. Every pasta we've ever had from Kyle has been exquisite. Hand made, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and probably better than anything you'll have outside of some nona's kitchen in Emilia Romagna. The rabbit was tasty inside, to say the least.
We already had rabbit for the pasta, so we decided to stick with the theme for our Big plate and ordered the Spring Rabbit (again, how often do you get that opportunity?) The rabbit was wrapped in bacon--er, I mean prosciutto-- and served with cracked farro, which I don't think I'd ever had before. The meat was great, and the overall dish tasty, but everything that had come before it had been so packed with insane flavor that it ended up being my least favorite, albeit still an exceptional plate of food. I don't think I much cared for the farro.
We had desert as well, but by that point I was stuffed and probably falling into a food coma, so there survives no photographic evidence of what it was. I hate to again be writing about an experience that can now never be duplicated or replicated, but Savannah keeps forcing me into this position.
Here's hoping for the best for Chef Kyle Jacovino. We'll eat whatever he cooks, wherever he does it.