I was recently invited to check out the new summer menu at 95 Cordova in St. Augustine, a restaurant featuring “New World, Middle Eastern and Asian flavors” located within the Casa Monica Hotel. Full disclosure: invited typically means free meal on this blog, in case you’re worried about any bias I may (but try not to) have. After a tour of the historic hotel (1888) turned courthouse (1962) turned hotel again (1999), we stepped into 95 Cordova to start our meal. Because I am wicked smaht and sometimes rush through things, I managed to delete all but one of my photos of the meal. Wow. Luckily Mario actually photographs his food more than I do these days, so I’ll be posting a combination of his photos and some from the handy Flickr album the event’s organizers put up.
The first course was the Kessler calamari, so named for the entrepreneur owner of the hotel group, an interesting Middle Eastern-inspired take on the typical fried calamari. It came topped with tomatoes, olives, asiago, coriander, fresh cilantro, and Moroccan aioli:
We were all impressed by how light and tender the calamari were, and I enjoyed the non-traditional accompaniments. Next up was a seared duck breast with blackberry compote and crispy potato hash, followed by a refreshing cucumber-pineapple salad.:
Mario chose a particularly non-ducky angle to photograph, but you do get a good look at one interesting aspect of the dish–baby corn shoots. These little leaves actually tasted like sweet corn! Very cool. The duck was very tender, but I would have liked more crispness from the skin. The blackberry compote was surprisingly savory and was a nice complimentary flavor. We also loved the potato hash. It was nothing special, but delicious nonetheless. Mario got a much nicer photo of the pineapple cucumber salad and its baby cilantro accompaniment. The salad was tossed in olive oil and sea salt, and as a lover of a good salty-sweet combo, I thought the salted pineapples were excellent. The baby cilantro was a nice touch too–Mario, a documented cilantrophobe (that link has a cool story about the physiological explanation for this) even thought its mild taste was fairly pleasant.
Next, we cleansed our palates with a watermelon granita and prepared for the heavier courses, coriander crusted scallops (whipped black beans, roasted corn salsa, citrus chili aioli, and cilantro oil), and braised pork osso bucco (truffled sweet potato mash, roasted Brussels sprouts, parsnips), of which I sadly do not have a photo:
The watermelon granita (sort of a gourmet sno-cone) was a little too salty for me, or maybe it was its placement following the salty pineapple. The scallop dish was one of my favorites–not surprising, I love scallops! The texture of the scallops was perfect; even with the crisp coriander crust, they were in that sweet spot of firm but not rubbery. I don’t typically like beans unless they’re hidden within something else, but these whipped black beans were quite good. I loved the contrast between their savoriness and the the citrus chili aioli’s brightness. Yum!
I was particularly looking forward to the pork osso bucco because I had a similar dish a few years ago at a restaurant in Durham, NC that blew my mind. Despite the obvious care that went into the dish (4 hours of braising!) this version was good, but not great. Definitely well-suited for the meat-and-potatoes lover, the hefty, fork-tender pork shank comes atop my favorite part of the dish: truffled sweet potato mash. Most of us are used to sweet potatoes paired with more sweet–maple, marshmallows, brown sugar, etc. But if you can get your hands on some truffle butter the next time you make sweet potatoes, DO IT!
Finally, dessert. As you know, typically my favorite course of any meal. Ours was an Earl Grey Panna Cotta, the chef’s take on after-dinner tea and cookies:
I know you see what I see. Yes, those are macarons. And yes, they were awesome. And no, I don’t know where to buy them (yet), but I am on a scouting mission because macarons are my current OBSESSION. Those, however, were not the stars of the dish, that light and mousse-y panna cotta was. Like a good cup of tea, it wasn’t too sweet, but I loved the drizzle of honey you could use to bring it to your desired sweetness. I’m also a fan of light desserts after a big dinner, and this fit the bill. An excellent execution of a creative idea.
95 Cordova is an excellent choice for a fancy meal in St. Augustine. The menu has a little something for everyone’s tastes, so it would be tough not to here leave happy!