A veteran Fairfield County restaurateur is returning to Westport with a new French restaurant on the "rive gauche" of the Saugatuck River.

Rive Bistro is expected to open in mid-March at 299 Riverside Ave. on the west bank of the river, succeeding the River House restaurant, which closed Dec. 31.

"I've always loved this location," said Eric Sierra, the Rive Bistro co-owner and chef. "It's a great opportunity."

The new dining establishment will serve French bistro cuisine, including steak frites, mussels, oysters, lobster rolls, grilled chicken, cheese fondue, salads and sandwiches.

"It's going to be a real French bistro," Sierra said. "We want to have reasonable prices with good quality food, good service and a very casual atmosphere. We want to bring everybody to the restaurant from the older clientele to young clientele."

The property, now undergoing interior renovations, will seat about 65 patrons inside and about 45 on an outside patio. It will also house a dining room for private functions.

The opening of Rive Bistro represents a homecoming for Sierra. A native of the city of Biarritz in the southwest of France, he has been a restaurateur in Fairfield County for more than two decades. From 1991 to 2000, he was the owner and chef at Bistro Des Amis, a downtown restaurant in Sconset Square at the current site of the Blue Lemon restaurant. He then moved on to Shelton, where he owned and served as chef from 2001 to 2006 at the Italian restaurant Il Palio. After running Il Palio, he worked from 2009 to 2011 as the general manager and chef at the Fairfield restaurant Martel. He followed his stint at Martel by working for a year as a consultant to a restaurant on Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

When he returned last year from the Bahamas, Sierra learned that River House owner Kevin Burns was considering selling the restaurant. Sale of the riverfront eatery to Sierra and his business partner, Vivi Torres, was completed this month.

Burns is a partner at the Westport-based investment advisory firm LLBH Private Wealth Management. After running the restaurant for 10 years, he said that he and his business partners decided to sell because of the difficulty of his commute between Connecticut and California for his work with LLBH. He also cited the impact of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, which he said would have forced River House to operate "at a deficit."

Rive Bistro plans to have a staff of about 25 workers, similar to the 26-person roster average at the River House.

"I am proud to have impacted positively so many families," Burns said in an email to the Westport News. "I wish Eric and his team the best of luck and given the absolutely beautiful venue I look forward to being a regular and happy customer."

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