Sunday, September 20, 2009

St. Augustine Round-Up Pt 3: Casual Upscale Dining

Saint Augustine’s fancier establishments benefit from their locations in historic renovated houses, circa nineteenth-century luxury hotels, and Old Florida buildings offering waterfront vistas. Yet, I must admit that the more expensive places I’ve tried fall short in terms of service and food when compared to their counterparts in larger cities. This post is the third in a series of four that outline the restaurants and bars I’ve visited over the past months. The posts will be organized by Latino, Caribbean, and Spanish dining; casual dining; casual upscale dining; and bars and breweries. I will continue to return to these posts and update them as I visit more places – there are many many more to be savored! And, I’d love if you left any recommendations you might have in the comments section.

Cap’s on the Water is a well-deserved local favorite, with a picturesque Old Florida setting that offers indoor and outdoor dining and a casual raw bar where you can slurp down a pile of briny oysters over a shared bottle of champagne.The oysters Rockefeller were very luxurious, with spinach, bacon, breadcrumbs and melted Parmesan cheese.My seared tuna topped with chimichurri served on top of a black bean cake with plantains and Southwestern corn was tasty, if a bit overdone.The scallops were perfectly cooked and tasty, but the dish didn’t come with a veg or starch so my dining mate was a bit unsatisfied. (We wished the waitress would have encouraged us to order sides a la carte)Desserts are outrageous, in a good way. How about bananas foster cheesecake?Or a dense chocolate raspberry cake? A setting for any occasion, be it a fancy special occasion dinner or a bottle of beer at the sandy raw bar. 4325 Myrtle St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-8794 Cap's On The Water on UrbanspoonThe recently renovated Cortesses Bistro is big on atmosphere. There’s a dark and appropriately moody lounge that hosts live bands, a courtyard filled with fountains and private booths and creeping flowering plants, and multiple dining rooms each offering its own personality and color scheme.I’ve had mixed experiences with the service and food, but overall have enjoyed my visits here. The artichoke soup is a house specialty, rich and creamy and well seasoned. Another good appetizer is the baked brie with lingonberry sauce, fruits and crostini.I was less than impressed with the seafood crepe I ordered. It was filled with shrimp, scallops, crab and mushrooms & served with lobster champagne sauce, but unfortunately some of the seafood was very undercooked. It could have used another five minutes in the oven. However, I tried my dining mates’ mains and they were all tasty and well cooked. I also enjoyed a tomato pie for lunch in the courtyard and found it to be perfect and not too filling. 172 San Marco Ave, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 825-6775 Cortesses Bistro on UrbanspoonThe Old City House Inn & Restaurant also offers sumptuous indoor dining and a picturesque courtyard. The menu spans continents with Indian and Thai curries, South African ostrich, and dishes drawing inspiration from colder climes. Everything I tasted was good and the chef prepared all of the meats perfectly, but I did notice a sweet/savory theme that ran through the meal, sometimes with more success than others. A chicken breast stuffed with figs and brie was served with an herb sauce and asparagus over mashed potatoes.The clove and coriander-scented pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked and nestled on a bed of cinnamon-laced sweet potatoes, served with asparagus and a pomegranate demi-glace reduction.I had the pan-seared South African ostrich. It was perfectly prepared, yet I could have done without the vanilla Cape brandy sauce.The daily seafood special was spaghetti with shrimp and lobster in a tomato basil cream sauce.The menu could use a bit more focus, the wine list would benefit from some attention (the first white we ordered had an unpleasant olive brine taste), and the dishes aren’t cheap, but it’s a good place for a leisurely special occasion dinner in a beautiful setting. 115 Cordova St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 826-0184 Old City House on Urbanspoon

Café Alcazar is in one of the prettiest settings in St. Augustine. The restaurant occupies a historic former indoor swimming pool in the Lightner Museum.It’s only open for lunch, but the strumming guitar and filtered light lend an impossibly romantic vibe to the experience of dining here.I enjoyed my veggie panini with potato salad.My dining mates ordered pasta. Chicken and artichokes tossed with penne in a white wine sauce.And one of the most popular menu items, shrimp broiled with breadcrumbs and parmigiano served with pasta.Thank goodness we didn’t have anywhere to be. Our waitress forgot about us and was nowhere to be found, so we didn’t actually put in our orders until we’d been waiting for almost a half hour. Nevertheless, it deserves a visit if only for the setting. 25 Granada Street, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-7813 Cafe Alcazar on Urbanspoon

Later this week: St. Augustine Round-up Pt 4: Bars & Breweries.

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