The Chef Selects

From EU Jacksonville: We've talked to some of our area's chefs about what they think you should order at their restaurants this season and why.

Published November 19, 2015 in Dining & Nightlife -

Article provided by EU Jacksonville

Kitchen On San Marco

If you’re looking for a farm-to-table experience, KoSM is the place to be. They’ve carefully curated their farm providers and, though not all of them are local, they’re small farms with products of the highest quality. We highly recommend anything with ham or bacon in it, as the provider, Ben-ton’s, is known as a sort of deity of bacon amongst knowledgeable foodies. The menu changes with the seasons, as it should, so we sat down with Chef Ryan Randolph to ask him what he thinks you should order the next time you come to the Kitchen. This season he says he’s fallen in love. With a chicken. Specifically, poisson rouge, a thin-skinned, young, free-range, no- antibiotic, and hormone-free chicken. At the Kitchen, they serve it up atop pan roasted brussel sprouts, with a dijon creme, topped with Veggie Confetti micro-cabbage. Best of all, they’ve mixed in the awesome power of Benton’s Bacon, just to make those brussels sing. You should order it, Chef Ryan says, “because it’s South in your mouth chicken!”

Taverna (San Marco)

Impressive rustic elegance, delicious cocktails, and delightful salads make Taverna where you’ll want to class it up for an afternoon lunch or the evening. It’s also hip and swanky enough to earn anyone points on date night, too. Three years ago, they expanded their space and added a beautiful bar and a private dining area. Chef Sam Efron’s choice for fall is the roasted pear salad. The salad, he says, was created with his mother in mind, since the combination of fruit and cheese would be sure to win her over. Also, he says, “I love roasted pears. Everybody’s loving it.” The pears are tossed in cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice atop a mixed green salad with goat cheese, cranberries, spiced candied walnuts and balsamic dressing made in-house. Craft cocktails are part of the Taverna experience, so mixologist Brian Binniker had a pairing recommendation to go along with Chef Sam’s roasted pear salad. It’s a cocktail he whipped up for Chef Sam, because Pimm’s Cup is is his favorite, and it uses Dillion’s Gin (spelled the same as Chef Sam’s son’s name), Pimm’s Cup, cucumbers, and a house-made ginger ale of simple syrup, ginger, and soda water.

13 Gypsies (Riverside)

Those who haven’t been to 13 Gypsies are missing out on some of the best food Jacksonville has to offer. In conversations with area chefs, 13 G comes up often as a place they like to indulge their palates whenever they have a day off. One taste of any of their artisan dishes, and you’ll know why. If it can be made by hand in the kitchen, they do. It’s a small place, with about seven tables, so we recommend a reservation, although I’ve had luck during the week, calling the night of and asking if they have any cancellations. verton Tower Chef Howard Kirk says that the dish you should be ordering is the Pappardelle Pasta Chorizo & Shrimp, because “you can taste the entire restaurant in one dish.” Chef How- ard is passionate about handcrafting any charcuterie in the restaurant, so he contributes the flavorful chorizo sausage, and Chef Brian Moore makes all their pasta fresh by hand. You can pair the dish with practically any beverage on their menu, since their wine and beer has all been specifically chosen to go well with all their flavors.

Blue Bamboo (Southside)

Take a moment to chat with Chef Dennis Chan of Blue Bamboo, and you’ll know why he makes my list as one of my favorite chefs in Jacksonville. Drop in for snacks and a saketini before the movies at Tinseltown or en- joy a full dinner. Blue Bamboo serves up Asian fusion, or hip Asian comfort food, as he likes to call it. His menu has great range, and you’ll be able to find something for most everyone. (Pick up his cookbook Hip Asian Comfort Food while you’re at Blue Bamboo, so you can cross at least one name off your Christmas list early.) Chef Dennis’ choice is an unexpected one, for those who aren’t his regulars. “People wait for this sandwich every year,” says Chef Dennis. Seared turkey finished in a sherry cream sauce, classic dressing, cranberry orange relish, the impeccable sandwich bun, and a few greens to keep it balanced, combine in holiday sandwich perfection. There doesn’t seem to be anything Asian about this sandwich, at first glance, or indeed, even at first taste. But Dennis says that the recipe for the dressing comes from his grandfather, who made it every holiday in the wok with sage, onion, and celery, stir fried, with a base of day-old French bread.

Cafe Nola (Downtown)

More and more deliciousness is making Downtown a dining destination, but we think you should remember that Cafe Nola has been making Jacksonville delicious for quite some time. I’ve never left there unsatisfied. It can be found on the lower level of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), next to the Main Library on Laura Street. It makes for an impressive place to have a business lunch, a date (you can even take in some art at the MOCA if you take their hours into account) or just a post- or pre-Art Walk indulgence. Besides a particular summer salad that I’m in love with, the fantastic shrimp and grits, and the fact that every meal I’ve had there has been delicious, I come back for their signature butter, which is always a little sweet because it’s mixed with an in-season fruit. Chef Kathy Collins has chosen something very Southern indeed: fried chick- en topped with pickled mustard seed, made in-house, sprinkled with bacon powder (also made in-house), which is white, and provides little, intense bursts of bacony flavor. It’s her pick for a fall dish at Cafe Nola, says Chef Kathy, because it’s not as starch-heavy as many standard fall entrees tend to be. “It’s hearty but not weighty,” she says. The fried chicken sits on rainbow baby carrots and braised red cabbage, finished with an apple glaze, a little sweet to balance out the savory and tart.

Ovinte (Southside)

One of two locally owned restaurants in the St. Johns Town Center, Ovinte is defnitely a place you should be dining if you’re shopping on the Southside. There’s a lot of small plate and tapas action on their menu, so it’s the kind of place you can take a group for some upscale nibbles. We love lounging on their velvet couches, indulging in a post-work cocktail or wine, though they do have more traditional seating in other parts of the restaurant, as well as outdoors on the patio. Chef Ian Lynch serves up some of the finest meals Jacksonville has to offer. His choice for this sea- son is the duck, or as we like to call it, Duck Done Ovinte. Duck is one of those tricky dishes that, when done properly, is divine, but when bungled, seems a terrible calamity. Chef Ian does it right, so know that if you order it at Ovinte, you won’t be disappointed. The seared duck is served over lovely little English peas, Cipollini onions,a sweet-tart balsamic sauce with figs, and topped with micro- greens from local farm Veggie Confetti. It’s served with a savory bread with leeks and spanish goat cheese inside, which is almost like a delicious, somewhat-sweet quiche rather than a brioche, perhaps because of the chef’s secret ingredient: succotash. Chef Ian recommends the duck at Ovinte because it’s “a treat” and when it comes from his kitchen, he knows how important it is that it’s done correctly. “Sometimes,” says Chef Ian, “I just crave duck.” We think that once the word’s out, duck lovers will flock to try a taste.

Article by Erin Thursby

Article provided by EU Jacksonville

EU Jacksonville supports local art, culture and entertainment in Northeast Florida. From local artist interviews, restaurant reviews to in-depth neighborhood coverage, EU Jacksonville has informed the music, theatre, and art communities for over 30 years.

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