We recently reviewed Café Nola’s new cocktail menu and we were so pleased with the sampling of the Fall Tasting Menu that we swung by for another visit during Sip and Savor Jax week. Nola is located inside the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown on North Laura Street. Sip and Savor Jax was a two week period where each participating restaurant offered a 3 course lunch for $15. The 3 course lunches we tried are items that are also on Café Nola’s fall menu.
When we arrived, I let our waiter know that we were on a massive time crunch and he quickly accommodated us by taking our entire order at once and bringing out our first and second course at the same time. I appreciated that he didn’t seem stressed by the request. He actually went above and beyond to make sure we were still running on our time schedule throughout the meal and even later boxed our food as we moved from course to course so we wouldn’t have to wait for that either. The stellar customer service set a nice tone to a meal that would have otherwise been a little hurried.
We ordered the seasonal soup (regular price $5-$8) and the ricotta toast (regular price $7) for our first courses. The seasonal soup this particular day was a wild mushroom bisque. While we waited on our first course to arrive, we were brought bread with a citrus butter that was absolutely divine. The citrus butter was tangy, fresh, and vibrant and captured Florida flavors well. Our first course arrived very quickly and we dug into more bread with the ricotta toast. This appetizer comes on house made semolina bread and is layered with house made lemon ricotta with a citrus drizzle, and then topped with micro-arugula. This bread was enjoyable but also felt like acid/citrus overload. Especially after just having had the citrus butter. I think with a bit more ricotta it would tone down the acid and provide more balance. We also debated the merits of instead of semolina bread having a sweet scone with the ricotta and citrus drizzle to balance out the flavors.
The wild mushroom bisque was a clear winner in the first course. I’m a recent mushroom convert, I used to hate them. This soup could be eaten by mushroom lovers or mushroom haters. The bisque is herbal and earthy without the “ground” flavor that mushrooms can sometimes overwhelm with. The texture is truly a perfect bisque, it is dense and hearty and warming. There were also pieces of chicken and wild rice throughout the soup that would make this a wonderful full meal option if you ordered a nice big bowl and a salad. Both of us would come back to Café Nola strictly for this soup.
For our entree courses we opted for the half order of the chef’s pasta (full order $14) and a half order of the roasted beet salad ($14). The chef’s pasta this particular day was rather disappointing. We had penne pasta tossed with a few vegetables in olive oil. It was bland and we both felt as if we could have made this at home and probably made it with more flavor. If the base of the pasta is going to be just olive oil it needs a fair amount of seasoning or toppings added to make it interesting and worth dining out for. We didn’t get that with this entree. The reality is, with these discounted restaurant week menus, the items that are provided are going to be some of the lowest cost food items on the menu. I don’t think this is really a knock on the chef or restaurant, I think this particular pasta was chosen to meet cost efficiencies. I’d be interested to try their other full size regular menu pastas in the future.
The beet salad, however, was everything we expect on a Fall menu. The salad is a kale base and is absolutely covered in red and golden beets, fingerling potatoes, gorgonzola, smoked almonds, beet crunchies, and warm sherry-bacon vinaigrette. This salad is the salad to set the standards of all salads by. A killer salad offers up a lettuce to topping ratio highly leaning towards toppings and this gives you exactly that. The beets were roasted perfectly–sweet, tender, and melt in your mouth. Gorgonzola was the perfect cheese choice to add some tang to the salty bacon vinaigrette. This was my first time dabbling in beet crunchies and I hope I can find them elsewhere because they trump croutons all day. If you’re looking for a five star salad packed full of rustic ingredients that make you crave sweater weather, this is it.
After all this eating we were naturally ready for dessert. Sip and Savor gave us two options, so we ordered both to see which we would like better. Daily desserts are $6 each at Café Nola and change seasonally. We tried out the Key Lime Tart and the Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Torte. The Key Lime Tart was enjoyable. The texture was perfectly creamy. The only thing missing was tartness. Floridians want that distinct key lime flavor that leaves you crinkling your nose a bit. The crust was spectacular, and the dessert was delicious, but the key lime needed to stand out. The Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Torte is every grown up’s dream that still wants the flavors of childhood. The whole time I was eating it I kept thinking that it was the old school flavor of a Handisnack pudding cup except grown up and mature. This dessert is absolutely delicious. Chocolate lovers rejoice, this dessert is made for you.
Our Café Nola experience in total was delightful. To add to the incredible customer service and excellently prepared seasonal foods, the ambiance is unbeatable. I loved looking out into Hemming Park while we talked over our meal and watching the bustle of downtown Jacksonville. We have a beautiful city and few places to really relax and enjoy it. Café Nola provides us with that atmosphere. We will definitely be frequent visitors after this enjoyable experience and we look forward to the ever changing food and cocktail menus that reflect the Florida seasons.