Saturday, June 18, 2011

Global Dining in the Oldest City in America

I like to use birthdays as a reason to dine at more extravagantly priced restaurants. I love to try new places, but I'm definitely much more of a home cook. Last year, David took me to the incomparable Le Bernardin, a dining experience which can never be rivaled. The dishes and service were literally perfect. I can still taste the sea urchin risotto's creaminess on the roof of my mouth. And it better damn well have - the price tag for a dinner left a bruise in my wallet.
But Le Bernardin's not the subject of my post today. This year, I celebrated my twenty-something birthday on the coast of northern Florida, staying at my in-laws' place in Palm Coast. A short drive away is St. Augustine, a pleasant little beach town with a rich history from mid-sixteenth century Spanish occupation. The little city can border on the kitschy, as most beach towns can, but the narrow cobbled streets lined with independent merchants selling various wares, from handblown Venetian glass to souvenir T-shirts, more than make up for it. 
Dave surprised me with dinner at Collage Restaurant, whose tagline is "Artful Global Dining." The owners, Mike Hyatt and Cindy Stangby, transformed the French establishment to an eclectic one in 2007, boasting flavors from across the culinary globe: A collage of flavors, you see. I was immediately intrigued, never mind the claim that they are considered one of the ten most romantic restaurants in America. 
After much debate, we began with escargot, cooked with mushrooms and a creamy cognac sauce in a puff pastry shell. The combination of complex textures, from the viscosity of the cream, the bounciness of the escargot, to the airy crunch of the puff pastry, was very satisfying. 
For my entree, I chose the charred steak with truffle butter. And, just because that wasn't enough indulgence, I added charred fois gras to the plate. The result, of course, was sinful. This dish needs to be eaten slowly, savoring every fatty, creamy bite. 
Oh, and we split a bottle of '06 Argentinian Malbec, Famiglia Bianchi, which hit the notes well with my steak. And since I hit the third glass by the time dessert came, I can't remember too much of the last course - though I remember the creme brulee being delicious. That's the problem with ordering a bottle of wine and reviewing a meal; amnesia roosts around dessert.
Overall, the dinner was excellent. My only disappointment: The steak was not locally sourced and the server did not know which farm it came from. I'm used to visiting restaurants where our servers knew exactly where their meat was sourced. When my server told me she didn't know, I actually reconsidered ordering the steak. Obviously, I couldn't resist trying the meat with truffle butter and fois gras. 
The long drive along the coast on route A1A back home was lovely. An evening well spent with my significant other, the beach, and good food. 

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