The Tasting Room

Simple, Elegant Dining in St Augustine’s Historic District 

"With bread and wine, you can walk your road."  ~  Spanish Proverb

When asked to recommend a restaurant in St Augustine, one spot makes my list every time.

Popular with locals and visitors alike, The Tasting Room specializes in Contemporary Spanish Cuisine - with a seasonal menu inspired by regional and traditional Spanish culture. 

Their food, service, ambiance and impressive wine selection have garnered them many awards and recognitions, including Open Table's Diners' Choice Award as one of the top 100 Restaurants in the US with a Most Notable Wine List (2011, 2012, 2013); the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence (2013); and the St Augustine Record’s Best of St Augustine’s Best Chef, Best Upscale Dining, Best Tapas, and Best Wine List honors (2013). 

Recently I was invited to spend a few hours with Executive Chef and Managing Partner Michael Lugo and Arbus Magazine Publisher Cinda Sherman, tasting Spanish wines and nibbling our way through the new fall menu. 

Paella Mixta - $27
The Cinda's Cellar feature in the October/November 2013 issue of Arbus focuses on Spanish wine and the St Augustine Spanish Wine Festival (October 21-26), and features a profile on The Tasting Room, written by yours truly! 

Chef Lugo, who describes his cuisine as “innovative interpretations” of traditional Spanish fare, was particularly passionate about the two versions of Paella that can be found among the Platos Grandes (large plates) on the fall menu. 

Vegetarian Paella De Finca (the chef referred to this as a "Land" Paella) is a dish of Spanish saffron rice with sautéed artichokes, white beans, asparagus and fresh peas. Paella Mixta features sautéed local seafood, chicken, chorizo and fresh peas.

The chef shared the origins of the familiar Spanish classic, while we sipped a glass of La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva 2004 - a lovely silky red blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes that delivered a juicy mouthful of ripe cherries, with notes of citron, leather and tobacco, and just enough spice to provide depth and structure as it opened up throughout the evening.

Woah - clearly my table companions' experience with Spanish wines made an impression on me - when have I ever described wine with that level of detail? Did I mention it was aged 36 months in American Oak? OK, I looked that part up. It was good stuff.

Crispy Sea Salt Calamari - $12
The bread service featured a fine Spanish Olive Oil with a sprinkling of herbs and spices - a proprietary blend created for them at the nearby Spice and Tea Exchange. 

We also sampled a selection of tapas: 

Crispy Sea Salt Calamari is tossed with jalapenos, cilantro, onions and served with a creamy rocoto pepper dipping sauce. The Calamari are crisp and perfectly seasoned, and the sauce packs a creamy, fiery-sweet heat. This simple, straightforward creation turned out to be the most memorable dish of the evening, and one I would order again on my next visit.

Albondigas - $10
A bright and hardy piquillo pepper sauce makes Albóndigas a favorite dish as well. Classic Spanish comfort food, the lamb and sausage meatballs are baked and served in the sauce, with picks for solo snacking or sharing. 

Tuna Cruda - $14
Tuna Cruda is thinly sliced Ahi tuna on crisp chip with goat cheese mousse and garnished with an olive-shallot vinaigrette. The sweet, silky tuna contrasts with the slightly tart and creamy cheese, and the salty bits of olive bring a briny finish to the dish. 

The Tasting Room's seasonal menu changes every 90 days, so you may see slightly different versions of a classic dish, as well as new dishes added throughout the year.

Stephanie Lugo manages the restaurant’s catering and events business. 

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The Tasting Room
Contemporary Spanish Restaurant
25 Cuna St., St. Augustine, FL 32084
LUNCH • Tues-Sun 11:30am-3pm
DINNER • 7 days • 5pm-10:30pm
SUNDAY • 11:30am-9:00pm
LIVE MUSIC • every night • 8pm-12pm

I will always disclose when, as in this instance, 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 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!