2665 Park Street, 32204
This may seem like a bad idea, but it is actually what has pushed me to start a blog for local eats. I am certain posting a negative review about a brand new place that is being met with lots of love from locals may not put me into good graces with people, but with the experience my friend and I had, the story needed to be told.
January 4, 2012, was day 4 of their soft opening, so being a little rough around the edges was understandable, and we took our meal with this in mind. The course of dinner follows.
A good friend of mine, Dave S, decided to go check out the new place at the corner of Post and King in Riverside hoping for a night of good times and great food. We walk in to a beautifully renovated pharmacy with high back booths, dark wood, high tops, what was easily a 35' bar, and 2 "Chef's Bars" that over looked the stone faced wood fire ovens and the open kitchen behind. High exposed ceilings opened the restaurant a lot, but the deep reds and woods kept it toned down. The lighting seemed to be at a perfect level to not over brighten a room or darken your dining companions face. Very clean. Very sleek. Simply put. A beautiful new place.
We decide to dine at the Chef's Bar and watch food roll out as we glanced over the menus. The beer list was extensive, being composed of tons of local and non-local micro brew beers, including Intuition and Bold City brews. Most beers were kept nicely priced between 5 and 6 dollars with a couple ranging into the 20 dollar range. The downside was our server was not very knowledgeable about a few of the beers that we believed they should have known a little more about. Not knowing about Intuition's People's Pale Ale seemed a little lazy considering it is the most common and popular of the local breweries tonics. Prompt bread and water service was nice, but it was served with an olive oil, that, as Dave put, "tasted as if they put liquid smoke in it" giving it a very off putting taste and they decided to use dried herbs to go with their fresh made bread. Not very tantalizing. After ordering a round of libations we moved on to the food.
The menu looks simple, yet edgy enough to make a strong push in Jacksonville. The menu currently consists of 5 starters, 4 salads, 6 pastas, 6 pizzas, 6 mains, and 4 desserts. Some extremely traditional, others more of a haute style cuisine. None the less, many piqued our interest.
We decided to begin with the Oven Fired Limoncello Wings, with Parmesan, chile, and olive oil, $9. The starter arrives, six wings with the slightest bit of char from the wood fire oven, garnished with celery heart leaves. We dig in expecting a flavor explosion and the dish immediately falls flat on our palate. These perfectly cooked wings have been under seasoned and wrongfully descripted. Instead of the wings being instilled with the flavor of Limoncello, Parmesan, and chiles, it is just a sprinkling of the latter as a further garnish. Worst of all, the wings lacked one of the most crucial ingredients. Salt.
So we decide to move on to the pasta course. Taleggio Ravioli with Bolognese, spinach, $14. 6 handmade raviolis on a rectangle plate covered with bolognese and a patch of sauteed spinach at one end. First bite reveals nothing but tough, thick pasta. Second bite reveals a washed out bolognese with no body. Third bite makes us wonder if Taleggio is even in the raviolis. We decide to dissect one for the filling, and alas, the creamy pungent cheese reveals itself. Finally, we eat the spinach, and we discovered where all the salt in the kitchen goes.
After finishing our second course, the front of house manager, who is running the pizza oven window, looks over and asks us how we are doing. After voicing several concerns he gets the Sous Chef to come talk to us, though at first he seemed reluctant to entertain the request. After voicing our concerns, he decides to try and rectify the mistakes by sending us 2 desserts on the house.
Tiramisu. In a word. Perfect. Traditional, light, airy, perfectly soaked lady fingers and the right amount of cocoa dusting so you didn't choke when taking a bite. Truly the high point of the night. But that is not where we finished.
White Chocolate Cheesecake with Espresso Pot de Creme. Presentation for this dessert got high marks, I just wish we could say the same about the rest of the plate. The cheesecake was so dense that you literally had to force the spoon through it so you could take a bite. And once you took the bite, the words white chocolate never came to mind. The Espresso Pot de Creme was a perfect consistency, but the high tones of the espresso left you wondering if chocolate was actually used to make it. This accompanment was so strong that it didn't let you reconsider the cheescake because it masked all other flavors.
Considering the fact that it was their 4th day of soft openings, I understand that there will be hitches. But you must not trust yourself when you are doing 5 weeks of soft openings. And you have a Sous Chef who sells food to guests that he agreed was sub par. And the same chef decides to try and rectify said foul ups by giving you food that was made by someone completely different(they list the Pastry Chef on the Menu). Reasoning they used behind some of their high pricing was they locally source their product using places such as Black Hog Farm, but they do not advertise it at all. This is something they should be proud of and is a huge push in the restaurant communities these days.
All in all, the service was nice with prompt but not overbearing attention from the servers, who also provided proper plate placement and service. The chefs did make time to stop by our table when requested, whether they felt we were worthwhile or not. And it is a new local place with tons, excuse me, TONS of potential. I look forward to trying this place out again after they get the oppurtunity to work the kinks out. And I wish them the best in putting the final nail in the coffin of that hideous Burger King less than a block away. I just hope they are not digging their own grave with some of the decisions they are currently making.