"~ Fran Lebowitz
Nowadays, when I travel, I seek out the unique and unusual. NOT one for over-the-top Disney-style themed resorts or thronging hot-spots, I prefer a spot off the beaten path. Somewhere with style, unpretentious elegance, and charm.
One such spot is just down the road from our home in Florida. We're fortunate to live close enough to St Augustine for frequent day-trips - lunch at one of our favorite spots, shopping, concerts at the Amphitheatre, plays at the Limelight, visits with friends.
Many evenings there have included a late night stop at the Cobalt Lounge at the Casa Monica Hotel. Live music, cool drinks, and an ambiance that transports you to another place and time have kept the Cobalt Lounge on my short-list of recommended spots in St Augustine.
Recently, I was invited to return to the Casa Monica for a dinner at their flagship restaurant, 95 Cordova. A complimentary overnight stay in one of the hotel's premium guestrooms made this an even sweeter deal.
The Casa Monica is a restored 1888 landmark hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. St Augustine's only AAA Four Diamond Hotel, its location in the heart of the city makes it a great spot for a getaway OR hideaway.
If you want to melt into a comfortable bed in a posh, quiet room overlooking the town square, or drop your bags in your suite and launch out to explore the Ancient City, Casa Monica offers the best of St Augustine.
The Casa Monica is a member of the The Kessler Collection – a portfolio of uniquely themed hotels and resorts. My stay was thoroughly enjoyable. The room was handsomely appointed, the view impressive, and the bed heavenly.
What really set the experience apart, however, was the people. From the front door to the front desk, the valet parking attendant, the chef and restaurant staff, everyone made me feel like an honored guest.
Dinner was served banquet style in the private dining room, with several fellow bloggers and members of the media joined by the food and beverage and catering managers. We were treated to several courses, some of which are available on the regular menu, some were created for the occasion by Executive Chef Harlan Walden and Executive Sous Chef Tim Haire. The starter was the hotel's signature appetizer - Kessler Calamari. Moroccan flavors make this unique preparation a standout. Topped with Asiago, fresh cilantro, tomatoes, olives and a Moroccan aioli, this dish was my favorite of the evening. Apparently every Kessler Hotel has this on the menu, so if there's one near you, go check it out for yourself. When I return to the Cobalt Lounge, it's what I'll be ordering.
The Seared Duck Breast with blackberry compote and crispy Yukon gold potato hash was topped with tender baby corn shoots, which everyone seemed to be charmed by. They were an artful addition to the composition of the plate.
I adore rare duckbreast, but my dish was a tad undercooked - a hazard of banquet service. The fat hadn't rendered out, and the flesh was a little too chewy. The potato hash was delightful though, and the berry compote was a lush accompaniment.
A pineapple cucumber salad was garnished with baby cilantro and paired perfectly with a Napa Sauvignon Blanc.
The sweet / salt flavor profile was pleasant and the cool, crisp cucumber complimented the lush, sweet pineapple nicely.
Another sweet / salty dish, an Intermezzo of watermelon granita followed.
Coriander crusted Sea Scallops came to the table resting on a bed of whipped black beans and roasted corn salsa.
The scallops were plump and the black bean puree was flavorful, but I wasn't completely won over by the dish.
I felt the fragrant coriander crust overwhelmed the scallops, and was a little heavy on the salt, but I give points for originality.
Our final protein course was a tender Braised Pork Osso Bucco by truffled sweet mashed potatoes, roast brussels sprouts and parsnips. The enormous pork shank was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the glaze seemed to have some Asian five-spice notes. The perfect truffled mashed sweet potatoes were the essence of autumn.
The brussels sprouts on my plate, however, and the accompanying parsnips, were disappointingly under-cooked. I love brussels sprouts, but when I popped half one into my mouth I found it was practically raw, and tasted heavily of sterno.
I sliced into the parsnip next, and it was almost too crunchy to bite into. I got the impression that the vegetables were being considered more photo-props than sides.
The dish looked lovely, and I assume that under different circumstances, during a regular dinner service without our foodie-paparazzi act to consider, this would be a stellar dish.
Dessert was a chefs creation of Earl Grey Panna Cotta, served with macaron and fresh berries. This was a winner - and I am fairly sure I lapped up every bite, despite being quite full from the previous courses.
|The view from my room!|
The evening was made even more special by our gracious hosts, who gave us a reception and tour of the hotel in addition to this splendid dinner and accommodations. While some of our crowd moved on to enjoy the nightlife in St Augustine, I made a beeline to my room, and dove into the incredibly comfortable bed for a restful night's sleep. Late checkout in the morning meant time to enjoy a cup or two of Starbucks coffee in my room, then a short drive up A1A and I was home in time for lunch. Thanks again to the staff at Casa Monica, and 95 Cordova, for a most enjoyable escape.
95 Cordova St
I will always disclose when I have received free food or swag, but I will not allow said gift to color my opinion or reporting of the food and experience. I attempt to share in plain terms what I do and don't like, and if I like it, I will urge you to try a place for yourself and form your own opinions. I'm not a trained chef or expert in any food related field, I just appreciate the social and cultural aspects of good food and dining experiences, and I enjoy sharing them with you through my blog. Thanks for reading!