I just got back from a great weekend in Jacksonville visiting the beautiful and awesome Imani. I didn’t really think of Jacksonville as a food city but two days there definitely changed my mind—I’m already looking for flights to go back in the spring.
On Sunday morning we went to Black Sheep in the Five Points neighborhood. First of all, the neighborhood itself is so cute – tons of little shops and bars and restaurants – totally where I’d live if the food scene seduced me into moving to Florida. The first thing we noticed when we sat down at Black Sheep was that they had a cocktail called the Clay Morrow. We’re both huge fans of “Sons of Anarchy” so that won us over right away. The food was really solid— especially for brunch. The best thing by far was the fried green tomato with gorgonzola fondue appetizer. The Poutine and shrimp and grits were really great as well. The shrimp and grits were topped with lightly pickled peppers and shallots that set off the creamy and rich dish perfectly. I’ll definitely be borrowing that idea.For dinner the next night we went to Orsay. I could spend the rest of my life writing about Orsay – it was amazing! One of the best food experiences I’ve had in the past year. We started with roasted oysters covered in bacon, spinach, parmasean and a garlic cream sauce – I almost cried they were so good. They managed to bring out the flavor of the oysters while covering them up in ridiculously flavorful stuff— its like sorcery. I figured that would be the highlight of the night but then they brought out our Port Canaveral red shrimp and my life changed. The most delicately poached, juicy, tender morsels of seafood perfection tossed in a Vietnamese vinaigrette that was an impecable balance of spicy and herbaceous. It is now my life goal to cook shrimp this well. The Bouillabaisse that Imani had as an entrée definitely wasn’t what I was expecting—it was much more a sauce than a stew–but it was absolutely delicious. Fresh, perfectly cooked seafood in a rich tomato and saffron sauce topped with a slice of grilled bread slathered in red-pepper remoulade. My red snapper came out with divinely crispy skin and was sitting on creamy stone ground grits and perfectly seasoned creamed corn. The bacon and lobster roe butter didn’t hurt either. The desserts we had were extraordinary. I don’t know if the pastry chef is married but when I had a bite of the chocolate cremeux I seriously considered sneaking into the kitchen to propose. It is one of the best chocolate desserts I have ever had. Imani’s Apple Pecan bread pudding was literally swimming in a moat of caramel and was topped off with a Vietnamese cinnamon ice cream — how could that be anything other than awesome?If it sounds like I’m gushing effusively – that’s because I am. Orsay is a restaurant worth flying to Jacksonville for. The ambience is low-key, comfortable and elegant, the cocktails are strong and delicious, the food is sublime and the service is nothing short of perfect.