Friday, January 29, 2010

Best of Jacksonville Party @ MOCA

If you weren’t downtown last night for the Best of Jacksonville Party at the Museum of Contemporary Art, well, you missed the best party in town. The event was a combination of my some of my favorite things: interesting and creative artwork, prime people watching, and food from the best restaurants Jacksonville has to offer. A Marilyn Monroe look-alike greeted guests at the ground floor entrance to the party, foreshadowing the diverse Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe exhibit running until April 4th on the third level of the museum. The prime people watching can partly be attributed to the photo booth and cover model search organized by Jacksonville Magazine. Lots of beautiful ladies hanging around hoping to be discovered. I don’t think many of these tall and trim gals enjoyed sampling the food offerings as much as, ahem, yours truly. Over 25 restaurants from across Jacksonville, in from the beaches, and up from Saint Augustine turned out to offer samples to 500 hungry guests. I expected each booth to serve an amuse bouche, a tiny little one-bite palate tickler, but most of the restaurants were dishing up full plates of food! Here are the restaurants that catered the event (in alphabetical order) and the dishes they served.

Aqua Grill, Ponte Vedra Beach – Fire-roasted dynamite shrimp finished with a caramelized sweet chili aioli, served over a cold Asian rice noodle salad.A chef from Aqua Grill cooked the spicy shrimp to order over hot stones. Biscotti’s, Avondale – An assortment of glossy pastel-colored French macarons. I had a heavenly peanut butter-flavored macaron, but there were also pistachio and oreo, among others. Bistro Aix, San Marco – Duck spring rolls with pineapple “ketchup.” These were wonderfully crispy, hot, and subtly flavored. Blue Bamboo, Southside Blvd – Asian noodles served in mini Chinese take-out boxes and an Asian slaw. Café NOLA, in the MOCA downtown – Shrimp in a creamy white wine porcini sauce with a smoked cheddar grit cake. Rich and divine. The Casa Marina, Jacksonville Beach – A take on ceviche: lime and chili marinated shrimp, scallop and fresh fish accompanied with avocado and a cilantro cucumber emulsion topped with crispy tortilla strips. Good contrast of textures and a perfect dose of citrus. Chew, downtown – frisee aux lardons salad and bacon and white bean cassoulet. Frisee was an excellent choice for a catering event – the hearty lettuce remained crisp and peppery in its vinaigrette, and the lardons were perfect little cubes of salty, chewy goodness. Joseph’s Italian, North Jax and Atlantic Beach – Stromboli and baked ziti. Matthew's, San Marco – Seafood soup with mussels, shrimp, and bay scallops. Top-notch seafood in a flavorful broth, served with a side of handsome chefs! Metro Custom Cakes – An assortment of cupcakes in flavors such as almond cream cheese and vanilla with raspberry filling. Mezza Luna, Neptune Beach – Braised short ribs with swiss chard, black currants and compressed apples. MOJO Barbecue – BBQ ribs, chicken wings, and pulled pork sandwiches. I could have just eaten at MOJOs and been full and satisfied – two ribs, two chicken wings, and a sandwich! Love this place, the ribs were especially tender. Morton's The Steakhouse – Mashed potatoes with prime rib. This was a real crowd-pleaser. Nineteen @ TPC Sawgrass - Pan-fried risotto cake and Kobe beef finished with a demi glace and crispy fried leeks. Probably the best plated presentation of the night, served with a beautiful, friendly smile. The beef was a perfect medium rare and extra salty, just like I like it. One Ocean’s Azurea Restaurant, Jacksonville Beach – Crab claw and crab salad over whipped avocado. The photo is atrocious but the crab claw was an especially clever idea for a cocktail party – one bite with a built-in handle. Genius and delicious! Orsay, Avondale – Shrimp and Anson Mills grits topped with roasted corn and Eden Farms bacon relish, served with a huckleberry scone. Again, this could have been a meal in itself. Love the sweet roasted corn and salty bacon topping.Pastiche, Avondale – Shrimp in a tangy remoulade sauce. A single bite that made me want to go back for more. The Reef, St Augustine – Seared scallop tostada with black bean and fresh salsa. River City Brewing Co., downtown – Salmontini: house-smoked salmon with crème fraiche, capers, and a quail egg. Twisted Martini, downtown – I tried the white grape martini which according to their website is made with white grape vodka, triple sec, sweet and sour, and a splash of Red Bull. 619 Ocean View Restaurant @ Sawgrass Marriott, Ponte Vedra Beach – Creamy bisque with truffled popcorn. There is a limit to even what I can fit into my tummy, so unfortunately I was unable to sample the offerings from the following restaurants: Deco Bistro, Riverside; JJs Bistro (they had a lovely table full of pastries like pecan tarts); North Beach Bistro, Atlantic Beach; Sliders Seafood, Neptune Beach; and Zaitoon Mediterranean Grill.

500 guests + over 25 restaurants + 1 Marilyn = 1 heck of a party. Looking forward to next year.

MOCA Jacksonville
333 North Laura Street, Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville Magazine


leena! said...

Looks delicious. I'm jealous!

Kevin Smith said...

That food was TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Good!!! HA HA I love that event. I go every year!!


hey, welcome to Jville! We're in your neighborhood, pretty old, but foodies too. We've been here forever so great to see the scene with new eyes.

Cari said...

@leena! - Oh yeah girl - it was a feast and a half!

@Kevin Smith - loved getting a taste of so many spots under one roof. Looking forward to next year!

@A FEW STITCHES - my list of restaurants to try seems ENDLESS, so I'm really going to enjoy eating my way through the city. There really are some real gems here!

Frederick Wright said...

Cari -

Another amazing set of photographs and good writing. Thanks for raising the bar here in this city.

I saw your tweet about the ramen-ya article in NYT and I keep thinking how well a noodle shop would do here in Riverside. The noodles served at our local sushi places are just sad, salty excuses.

Imagine 13 Gypsies cloned as a noodle bar? How cool would that be?

Full liquor license obviously - so we could serve shōchū and awamori...

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Cari said...

@Frederick - you flatter me!! (no complaints)

I second your call for a quality local noodle shop! Ordered takeout tempura udon from Sumo the other night and I'm sad to say that it just didn't travel well and left me a bit disappointed. What I really want is a quick, cheap, no-frills counter devoted to turning out the very best broths and noodles imaginable. I love to cook at home but ramen-ya is so time consuming to do well on a small scale. Sigh. I am looking forward to trying World Food Market hopefully this weekend!

Frederick Wright said...

Cari -

I wish that I knew SOMETHING about the business side of restaurants so that my partner and I could invest in a venture such as this. Not necessarily to make a pecuniary profit (although that is okay) but to improve the social fabric of this neighborhood.

I think you will like the WFM very much. My favorite dish continues to be the spicy seafood noodles, but everything looks good.