Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tapa That

820 Lomax Street, 32204

When looking for a place to eat, one of the top things on most people’s list is variety.  We want a place that allows us to sample food we have not yet tried, but do not want to be stuck with a plate full of food that we may dislike.  And without going to a top dollar fine dining restaurant, we are often left with whatever we meal we have chosen and sadly push it around the plate.  Enter tapas, the Spanish style of eating that involves a range of appetizers and dishes meant to be shared amongst the table.  Tapas range from fully composed dishes, such as a salad, to portioned dishes, such as a dumpling or fritter, allowing each diner the full experience of enjoying a taste.  Tapas bars are becoming not only more fashionable, but more available.

Menu Board, not from the day of dining.
I could think of no better place in Jacksonville for Tapa That to be situated other than Five Points. They use local ingredients, mainly produce, whenever possible and stick to a solid theme of Spanish inspired dishes with their own unique twist.  It is a cozy well-spaced bar with ample seating and yet had nothing overbearing about the dining area, an easy to read chalk board menu makes up a third of the wall, and a lounge area off in the corner with a few couches.  There is no community seating, an odd thing not to see in tapas bars considering the sharing inspired by such a cuisine, but they are more than happy to pull tables together for parties larger than four which still leaves ample room for any guest to get around the restaurant without bumping into another person’s chair.

Service starts out bad, my buddy, Morgan, went inside as a call came in which delayed my entrance.  Upon finishing, I head to the table and am brought only water and offered nothing further.  While discussing the menu, I find out that Morgan was asked if he wanted a beer, he replied he would wait.  Once I sat down no other offers were made for beverage choices, not even soda.
The menu is simple, eight to ten items rotating daily, each well described and simply priced.  A bright spot in the service was when we did ask about a particular menu item the wait staff had plenty of knowledge about them that they readily divulged the information to us.  The server recommended a few that we had been leaning towards which solidified out first two dishes.

Smoked Duck Salad, bacon shallot vinaigrette, $9.
This dish screamed Warm Spinach Salad redux.  And they a grand job of executing it.  The duck breast was smoked with China Mist Mango Tea imparting a slightly sweet and smoky flavor to it.  We felt they could have kept the duck a little more on the rare side, but it also would not have gotten as much of a flavor from the smoking process had they done so.  The dressing was perfect in multiple ways, it was the right temperature so it just barely wilted the spinach, the perfect amount of acid to fat, the sweetness from the shallot played well with the meaty bacon, it all came together like a well-orchestrated symphony.  Accompanying the salad were toasted walnuts and dried mission figs.  The figs were merely cut and nothing else was done to them so they were a bit chewy in the salad but still rounded out the salad nicely and the walnuts were perfectly toasted bringing a nice crunch texture to the dish.  Simply put; job well done.

They properly timed the dishes coming out from the kitchen so that we were not bombarded with 2 dishes at the same time which keeps the table from getting clustered and confused.  However, they did not reset flatware or plates, a very common practice at tapas bars so as to not muddle one dish into the next. 

Cuban Cakes, sour cream, spicy guacamole.  $7.
Being based on the classic dish of Congris Cakes explained the extremely traditional approach to this dish.  A white rice and black bean cake breaded and fried.  They get served with a black bean sauce of sorts; I am willing to bet it is their Black Bean Soup.  Small dollops of sour cream accent the dish and little drops of spicy guacamole are placed on top of each cake.  Yes, “drops”, there was not very much, not enough to have a small taste with each bite.  Overall this dish is really good.  The cakes are nice and light and come out golden brown.  After eating about half of one they begin to get lost in themselves.  The guacamole does not have very much heat and the sauce has the same flavor profile as the cake.  This dish could use a little tweaking to take it to that next level, and those tweaks are nothing major.

As the server is clearing the table from the second course, we ask about a few more items and decide to get another with a strong possibility of a fourth and fifth.

Wild Mushroom and Chevre Terrine, crostini.  $9
Wild mushrooms and goat cheese brought together in a classic preparation of a terrine?  What is not to like?  First off, it is not a terrine, though it does not neccesarily need to be made in a terrine to be called a terrine, it most definetly needs to be set with aspic or gelatin, "chaud froid", or the fats used in the cooking process, rilletes.  It is sauteed or roasted mushrooms placed in a ring mold and topped with whipped goat cheese.  The mushrooms were disappointing.  First, they did not appear to be properly cooked, as if they had overcrowded the pan when cooking them causing them to boil and steam as opposed to get a nice carmelization to them and develop tons of flavors.  Second, they appeared and tasted as if they were merely button mushrooms, nothing wild about these, and if they were a nice wild mushroom, you would never have known because they were sliced so thin they were unrecognizable in both appearance and texture.  The crostnis did not impress either.  They were sliced much like the mushrooms, wafer thin, so they barely stood up to the application they were meant for.  Sadly it was a flavorless piece of notebook paper thin bread.  The flavors were all there in the dish, they just did not come together the way they should have been.

This is where service really faltered.  We had already decided what we wanted to try next, the BLT Quesadilla, but instead of asking us how we were doing and trying to up sell another dish, he just drops the check off before asking us if we were done and without engaging us as he left it.  Not only is this bad for the restaurant for multiple reasons, but it leaves a bad taste in the patrons mouth as if they did not want us there in the first place, like we were inconveniencing them by asking them to provide the service we are willing to pay for and that they are striving to provide.  Though this is not necessarily a universal problem with all the servers or even a daily practice of the one who served us, it can quickly cause universal problems for the restaurant.  The food coming out of the kitchen is enough to keep this place around, but bad service can close a restaurant quicker than it opened.  I personally vote to give it a second shot.  Because the next time I go, I am sure they can "Tapa That".

Tapa That on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mango Mango's

It was a beautiful weekend in Northeast Florida so my buddy, Tom, and I decided to find a place to eat outside at.  He felt like taking a quick trip to down to Saint Augustine for this dinner, coincidentally his vehicle just so happened to be in the shop.  Nevertheless, we peruse some menus and I drive us to a place called Mango Mango's.

A cozy little family restaurant located a block from Saint Augustine Beach that gives that feel good, relaxing weekend vibe, Mango Mango's brings the Caribbean to the shores of north Florida offering a variety of sandwiches, burgers, salads and island favorites.  

The first step in relaxing is finding the right drink to fit the weekend.  At Mango Mango's they have a nice variety of everything from soda to flavored teas.  But being a tropically themed place they also offer "Island Oasis" drinks, a frozen concoction with various tropical fruit flavors that can be made for a kid or an adult.  They also have a nice variety of wine by the glass, half bottle and bottle.  Unfortunately, they do not carry San Sebastian Winery wines which are made within ten miles of the restaurant.  However, they do have A Street Amber Ale, a beer brewed specially for them by Florida Beer Company, a beer light enough to have a couple while enjoying some fun in the sun and yet full bodied enough to satisfy a dark beer drinker.  The kicker, $3.25 a pint.
A Street Amber Ale, so named for the cross street Mango Mango's resides on

Coconut Crunchy Shrimp, mango colada sauce, $10.
Tom got this just because he likes shrimp that have been coated with something, even better if that something has a sweet flavor and is plunged into scorching hot fat.  Little did he know he was going to be getting six huge butterflied shrimp, dredged in a coconut batter, fried to GBD (Golden Brown and Delicious) perfection and served with an awesome mango and coconut cream sauce.  So awesome, he saved it in hopes of it being good on anything he decided to dunk in it later.

Mango Mango's Famous Corn Cakes, avocado, salsa verde, Santa Fe sauce, $9.
I did not really now what to expect when ordering this, corn cakes can be prepared in so many variations just between Florida and the Caribbean alone.  I was truly drawn to this by the description more than the main component.  Mango Mango's preparation happened to be two huge Johnny Cake style fritters loaded with fresh pico de gallo, sour cream, Monterrey Jack cheese, a very unique and  well made salsa verde, fresh avocado and a spicy Santa Fe sauce.  The Santa Fe sauce, when mixed with the sour cream, is what brings this whole dish together, bringing the spicy and creamy together with the sweetness from the corn cake made for a wonderful starter.  My only complaint, it was not very hot when brought to the table.

Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich, Hawaiian bread, provolone cheese, honey ham, grilled pineapple, $10.
A simple yet exotic sandwich.  The chicken is grilled and basted with pineapple, papaya, and mango juices, then it is all assembled and pressed.  For what is basically a Caribbean style chicken cordon bleu panini, it misses the mark with poor execution.  Though the flavors of the sandwich were very nice and worked well together, the bottom of the it was soggy which can only mean one of two things happened: 1) they prepared it to early and let it sit in the window long enough to let the pineapple and chicken seep juices onto the plate only to get soaked up by the bread or 2) they used canned pineapple which is notorious for never really drying out. Almost every entree on the menu is served with your choice of side item from fries to side salad. Tom ordered the fried plantains, a simple side dish that is hard to mess up, luckily they were golden and piping hot.  This is also where Tom found a something else that goes great with the aforementioned mango colada sauce.
The Ultimate Island Burger!, brown sugar Caribbean rub, apricot honey mustard, beer battered onion ring, seasoned bacon, pepper Jack cheese, $9.
As you can see from the description, this burger obviously has some other influences on it.  Apricots are not a Caribbean crop.  Beer battered onion rings, bacon, even mustard really give no reference to the islands.  Until you realize there was heavy colonization of the islands by many different nationalities, and colonization can easily leave its mark on the cuisine of a region.  This burger was a representation of just that.  It was moist, the onion ring and bacon crisp, the mustard sweet and spicy, and all perfectly seasoned.  When all the these ingredients were brought together, I am pretty sure I heard the bread sing with joy for being able to house such a palate pleaser.  My side dish was Mango's slaw, a fresh coleslaw with oranges, pineapple and papaya, not a bad dish.  The set back was it was tossed in a mayonnaise based dressing, which when mixed with all the fruits, became a wet bowl of coleslaw.

So the next time you go for a day out at the beach, instead of going through the pains of lugging coolers and grills, eating sandy food, and worrying about disposing of all your trash properly, look into the local places that are in the are.  Not only are the decisions of who should bring this and who forgot that gone; You just might find your own Mango Mango's.

Mango Mangos on Urbanspoon


299 Atlantic Blvd, 32233

There is a meal commonly found throughout America that is, considered by many, a favorite past time.  A dish that can be pushed to the extremes and cost as much as $60, a veritable masterpiece with foie gras, black truffles, and Australian Waygu beef.  But the simplest ones take form as properly cooked meat on bread that used to sell for as little $0.05.  We are talking about the burger.  The hamburger, cheeseburger, sliders, minis, unnecessarily over sized party burgers.  We have seen them presented gloriously with a side of french fries or onion rings, speedily produced in the fast food chains, and destroyed by the inexperienced on an improperly prepared grill.  And because of all the Big Macs and Whoppers they have began to lose their allure.  Thankfully Five Guys, Smash Burger, and In-N-Out Burger have started a revival in this arena.  And as lovely as these places are, sadly, they are still corporate, non-local vendors.

Then MShack arrives on the shores of Jacksonville.  Like white sails on the horizon, the Medure brothers,  have brought the masterpiece known as burgers.  Not just meat on a bun with a little bit of ketchup, masterpieces designed by David and Matthew Medure.  The chef brothers who are responsible for bringing us Restaurant Medure and Matthew's have brought us a burger joint Jacksonville can be proud to have in its city, fusing the old fashioned burger joint with style and fresh ingredients. MShack burgers are made with all natural, hormone-free Black Angus beef ground fresh daily. Juicy, all beef hot dogs, hand-cut fries, mouth-watering milk shakes and more help complete their unique menu.  My friend Callie told me I needed to check it out and I had waited long enough.  She convinced me the drive from Riverside to Atlantic Beach was worth the trip.  I could only hope it was all true.

Having a beach locale, the feel of the restaurant follows suit.   Large windows that open at the front to give access to a small patio and allow a gently sea breeze in to remind you that you are a mere seconds away from the sand.  A small bar where the offer a few local brews and long community table running down the middle of the room all bring focus to the large chalkboard upon which they hand write the menu.  The concept was, and is, to provide a great burger that is affordable.  The basics all ring up under $5.  And just like any good restaurant, you get to watch all your food made in the open kitchen.

The Sunrise Burger, bacon, farm egg, American cheese, shack sauce, $5.50.
Anybody who has truly enjoyed a good burger knows that one of the best ways to improve upon it is by frying an egg and throwing it on top.  And that is the angle this burger takes.  The burger is ground in house, if you get there early enough you can actually watch them grind it through a window in the rear of the kitchen.  The bacon is not cooked until you order it and the Shack sauce is made in the style of Louis Dressing, a flavor that is familiar to most and pairs well with almost anything you would like to put it on.  It all comes on a toasted Martin's potato roll, one that is made specifically for MShack.

Italian Sausage, sauteed mushrooms, peppers and onions, melted provolone, $5.95.
This sandwich is not what you may expect, it is not a tube of meat shoved into a hoagie and topped with soggy vegetables.  It is a fresh ground, completely made in house Italian style sausage formed into a burger style patty and cooked fresh, just like all the other burgers at the joint.  Then top with veggies and cheese and put it all on a fresh ciabatta roll made by local bakers, Village Bread.  Old fashioned meets new school, and I have nothing to complain about.

Sweet Potato Tots, $1.95.
Almost simple and straight forward.  I know, they are just tater tots made out of sweet potato, right?  Not at MShack.  I never got confirmation, but I am almost positive, and Callie agrees, that they are not a frozen, bought out product.  To many irregular sizes and in no way a manufactured look to speak of, these awesome little nuggets had to be made in house.  Then to finish it off, a special seasoning, salt, sweet, a little spice and a hint of heat, a perfect pairing for the golden sweet potatoes.  Such a perfect pairing, we did not need anything to dip them in.

Queso Cheddar Fries, $2.95.
Nothing fancy, just potatoes, cut, blanched, and fried, then topped with a white cheddar chile sauce.  The fries stay crisp, are well seasoned.  The sauce, Oh!, the sauce is a dream of white velvet with just enough heat to keep the fries from becoming monotonous and keep you happy.

There is one spot I feel a place like Five Guys falls flat and that is not offering shakes.  I cannot blame them for not attacking it, creating a great shake is not an easy task.  And it allows them to focus on creating create burgers and fries and not worry about anything else.  However, at MShack the Medure brothers took on the challenge and excelled greatly.

Pecan Pie Shake, $5.25
I saw this and had to try it.  I easily saw the way for them to incorporate pecans, that one is a no brainer.  Even incorporating the texture and flavor of a pie crust can be done with a little effort.  The tricky part, the one that made me curious enough to have to order this shake, was incorporating that unique and ubiquitous flavor of the syrup style custard that makes a pecan pie a pecan pie.  Simply put. . .Nailed it.

Peanut Butter Shake, $4.50.
Blue Bell Ice Cream and Skippy Peanut Butter come together in a luxuriously thick emulsion of dairy and legume.  If it had strawberries in it, it would take you back to tour childhood days of PB&Js with a cold glass of milk.

So it turns out a drive to the beach was worth it.  Most of the time I can see myself driving out to the beaches just to get one of these burgers instead of going to Five Guys.  The good news, we will not have to be doing that by the end of summer. 
The Medure brothers have decided to open one up in San Marco at their former Take Away Gourmet location, and I have nothing but thanks for this decision.  With the talent that drives the restaurant and the concept behind the menu it can be successful anywhere they decide to set up.  They have the basics that will be mainstays on the menu, burger, cheeseburger, M Burger, shakes, and sides, but the others, such as Sunrise Burger or Fish Sandwich, are rotatable and can form the menu around the location it is at and the clientele they serve.  I feel that with this concept, MShack will be around for a while, which I could not be happier about.  Which gives plenty of time to try the The Medurable .

M Shack on Urbanspoon