St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra’s 2nd Annual “Flavors Of Florida’s Historic Coast” - There’s Joy in Eating Your Way Around Town, Especially During the Month of October

 

 



 

St. Agustine, the oldest city in the United States, takes great pride in its history that dates back to September 8, 1565 when the Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles stepped ashore and founded St. Augustine. Considered by many to be the most holy ground in theUnited States; it was here the first Catholic mass took place, and where Ponce de Leon believed he had discovered the Fountain of Youth.

 

The Spanish influence on the local cuisine can be traced back to the foods Menendez brought with him and introduced to the Timucua Indians who were living on the land. It can be said they shared “the first Thanksgiving”, and the same rich flavors and spices continue to influence local chefs who embrace the past with their passion for cooking.

 

Inspired by New York’s Restaurant Week and Miami Spice, the Visitors & Convention Bureau, organized the Annual “PRIX FIXE DINING CELEBRATION”. Partnering with 18 restaurants, each was invited to create a special 3 course lunch and dinner menu that reflected the city’s cultural and culinary history. Chef s were asked to take one of their signature dishes and pair it with an appetizer and a desert to create a unique tasting menu for the month long  “flavors of historic Florida”  October celebration, with prices that range from $20 to $50, 

 

As part of the celebration, I was invited on a four day culinary visit.  Barbara Golden, my host from the CVB, organizes a historic sites and neighborhood tour on Peter Gold’s  electric car, and a  pass that gives me entrée into many of the city’s popular local attractions, including:  the Pirate & Treasure Museum, Ripley’s Museum, the Lightner Museum, Flagler College to see the famed tiffany glass windows in the student dining room, the Whetstone Chocolate factory to learn how chocolate is made, a climb to the top of the lighthouse, and  a walking tour of the Fountain of Youth Park and planetarium, where I drank two glasses of  age-lifting waters. There wasn’t time to dine in all 18 participating restaurants, but I will do my best to share my favorite dishes.

 

Sunday check in

My first two nights are spent at the charming St. Augustine Hilton Bayfront Hotel. We drive over the Bridge of Lions to St. Augustine Beach to have dinner at Cafe Atlantico., a small gem with 36 seats inside and 12 on the deck..Chef/owner Paolo Pece, originally from Naples, joins us to talk about the three course menu he has created. The menu of seafood, pastas, meats and sides like parmesan whipped potatoes and garlic wilted baby spinach is mouth watering: I begin with the beef tenderloin carpaccio with black truffle oil and capers.  Paolo’s signature paper wrapped Chilean sea bass with shrimp and mussels in caper butter broth, served with pappardelle pasta surpasses its reputation.  

 

Chef Paolo Pece, Café Atlántico:

 

Monday’s prix fixe lunch in the Hilton Hotel’s Aviles Restaurant is a treat. The crispy

eggplant, goat cheese and tomato tower with Catalan relish and my warm spicy shrimp salad  with remoulade sauce are delicious. My afternoon is free for browsing, and I wander down Aviles, a narrow street lined with tiny shops, small cafes and historic houses; I stop to read plaques that describe the original occupant of each building.  Dinner at Bistro de Leon on Cathedral Street is a reflection of owners Valerie and     Jean-Stephane Ponard‘s Lyon hometown.  Highlights of the authentic French menu: the vegetable potage, salad and pork  an authentic  

 

Tuesday, after breakfast, I check out and pile my luggage into the van for the drive to Ponte Vedra. On the way we stop at Aunt Kate’s for lunch. A picnic table has been set on the deck by the water. We are a hungry group of five, and we devour heaping plates of fried green tomatoes, alligator tail, crab cakes, calamari, fish tacos and shrimp and grits.  

 

The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa in Ponte Vedra is a spectacular 63 acre property with 10 restaurants and two swimming pools. I take the shuttle over to the hotel’s ocean front beach club. The water is warm; the tide is out, and I venture out into the sea. The club’s 619 Ocean View Restaurant is closed today, and tonight we are dining in the Augustine Grill, an elegant venue which serves farm-to-the-table cuisine. I am impressed when Sous Chef Garrett Atiss, tells us:” we save our vegetable scraps and give them back to the farmers to feed their livestock”.

 

David Scallise – Augustine Grill, Sawgrass Marriott:

 

Wednesday

I cross a wooden bridge foot bridge and enter the Sawgrass Spa, a 22,000 square foot oasis where “tranquility reigns”. Marie, my therapist, combines two signature treatments, the HANNAKASUMI and the EXOTIC EXFOLIATION RITUAL. She begins by dry brushing my body, and then uses a loofah to exfoliate dead cells with a mix of Balinese spices and exotic oils of ginger and nutmeg.  An overhead Vichy shower moves back and forth to wash my body. A reflexology foot massage and a full body massage with melted shea butter leaves my skin incredibly soft, and my body refreshed and energized.

Casa Monica is one of the seven hotels in the Kessler Collection that has recently partnered with Marriott, giving guests Marriott points and other brand perks. This Spanish architectural gem has been meticulously restored. The richly furnished rooms, hallways, restaurant and lobby are filled with an eclectic mix of art from Richard Kessler’s private collection, as are his other hotels.

  

Harlan Walden, Chef du Cuisine of the hotel’s 95 Cordova Restaurant was born and raised inSt. Augustine. His passion and “sense of pride when he comes into his kitchen” charmed and intrigued me. He tells me: “ I love  what I do and I get paid to do it; spontaneity is the word to best describe my cooking; it is a reflection of how I feel at the moment. I feel having a style is limiting me. I use fresh components to create dishes that have a direct impact on someone’s day and special occasion, like a birthday, anniversary or wedding. I serve them something direct from the heart”. He send over Gina’s Award winning “blue His jumbo lump crab cake appetizer and coriander crusted scallops with whipped black beans, roasted corn salsa, citrus chili aioli and cilantro oil  are  highlights of my round of tastings. :

 

Chef Matthieu Landillon- The Tasting Room:

 

 

Thursday

I am on my own, and spend the day with James Banta, a local resident and a friend of a friend in Sun Valley. We have lunch at Casa Maya on Hypolita St., one of his favorite local spots (the ropa vieja sandwiches are scrumptious) and then sip martinis at his home on Cordoba Street.

 

The Tasting Room

My”last supper” is in the gardenof The Tasting Room. on Cuna Street. 

Chef Matthiew Landillon delivers a four course tasting feast that challenges both my taste buds and appetite. Every course is too exquisite and imaginative to simply taste. The seviche mussels are refreshing; the pasta with rock shrimp and goat cheese decadently unforgettable and the rare lamb chops served with truffle drizzled mashed potatoes left me swooning. I attempt to pass on the desert, but being as French and gentlemanly as Matthiew is, the brownie, oozing with fudge and topped with vanilla ive cream did not escape my spoon. I end my night and my visit on a  Russian  note  listening to the violinist  on the  deck of Sara’s Crepe Cafe

 

 

Chef Harlan Walden – 95 Cordova/Casa Monica Hotel:

 

St. Augustine, an endearing American treasure continues to discover and preserve its past as it moves forward to enhance its future. The city and  neighboring Ponte Vedra have it all: great beaches, fun and historic attractions, PGA golf courses, state-of-the-art spas, a monthly calendar of “not to be missed” events … and an impressive roster of innovative chefs and restaurants who are taking local culinary history to soaring new heights. I didn’t realize how much I loved to eat until my taste buds were tantalized and  titillated  by the “flavors of  Florida’s historic coast”.

 

Highlights of the holiday season:

Regatta of Lights and the Annual Christmas Parade.

 

For menus and u tube videos of participating restaurants:

www.historicfloridacoastflavors.com

For more info and event schedule

www.floridashistoriccoast.com

 

 

 

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