This week we were invited out to preview the new spring menu at Azurea Restaurant in One Ocean Resort. Azurea is one of the area’s nicest restaurants. From the gorgeous entryway into the restaurant to the impeccable service to the meticulously well thought out dishes they serve Azurea sets the bar for fine dining at the beaches. Every year the local magazines ask people to vote on the best place to go to impress a date. How any place besides Azurea could win I’ll never know. The space and the experience is second to none in Jacksonville.
The Chef at Azurea isn’t just the executive chef for Azurea. He’s the Executive chef for the entire 81 property Remington boutique hotel chain. It’s quite a treat that we have a chef of this caliber in Jax. When I met Chef Ted Peters prior to the meal, I asked him the same question I ask nearly every chef I run into. “So tell me about your culinary background.” Chef Ted’s was the most impressive of any I’ve met. From stints in amazing restaurants in London and France to fine dining all over America, Chef Ted has an incredibly well rounded breadth of experiences. A chef’s experience is manifested in the dishes they create just the same as an artist’s experience shows in their work. The way Chef Ted described his style was “I enjoy taking great food and allowing it to speak for itself.”
Things kicked off with an amuse bouche- Fromage blanc goat cheese, with spiced Georgia pecans, Shaved grape and local, Aquaponic GYO greens. This little warm up offered four flavors in one bite. Half of the chefs in town struggle to effectively meld 4 flavors into one dish. It left me thinking, “If the rest of the meal is half as good as this bite, we’re in for a treat.”
Before we got into the meat of the meal we were served bread with Black garlic, vegetable hummus, salted butter, olive oil and vinegar. It was really nice to get such a wide selection of accompaniments to enjoy. The black garlic particularly was a nice treat. Since it’s a fairly expensive item it’s pretty rare to see it offered. The taste was tangy and entirely different than the typical flavor of garlic, no doubt a result of the fermentation process used to accomplish the black color and distinct taste. It’s worth a try if you get the chance.
The first course was a chilled English pea and mint bisque with Benton’s ham crisps. This cold soup was sweet, salty, and savory all in one dish with a nice little crunch added from the ham crisps. I normally prefer my soups hot and pea soups wouldn’t be at the top of my list but this stellar soup is one I’d be happy to be served any time. Like every other dish we were served, there was an amazing attention to detail. From the look of the dish to the texture of each bite to the layering of flavors, this soup left you feeling as if the chef had thought of everything. How often do you find that in a soup?
The 2nd course was the Handcrafted Hudson Valley Foie Gras Tortellini. I have my share of ethical issues with foie gras so I rarely order it. Since I neglected to include it when asked what I don’t eat, I decided to go ahead and partake. The dish included fava bean, cipollini onions, corn, heirloom tomatoes, nueske’s double smoked bacon, local aquaponic nasturtium flowers. Often we’ll be served dishes with this many ingredients and some of the ingredients are much stronger than others denying the guest the ability to taste each ingredient. What I appreciate about amazing chefs is that they are capable of assembling a dish with 7 ingredients delicately balanced in such a way that the diner is allowed the ability to experience a taste of each distinctly. This dish accomplished that feat. I truly appreciate how Chef Ted Peters and his team where able to pull off an experience of this caliber.
The 3rd course was Tellicherry Crusted Harris Ranch Natural Beef Tenderloin Medallions served with wilted hydro cress and spinach, carrots from Chef Ted’s garden, white beach mushrooms, and natural jus. The beef was remarkably tender, cooked perfectly and full of flavor. Each of the vegetables paired nicely with the other ingredients on the plate making for a very nice dish.
The dessert course was a Humboldt Fog Fromage Blanc Cheesecake with spiced caramel, brulee navel orange, and citrus reduction. The cheesecake was mild with a nice smooth texture. The dish had a balance that allowed those with or without a sweet tooth to enjoy it. Like every other dish we experienced, each component of the dessert layered beautifully on top of the next making for a real delight. The gold specks of chocolate lining the edge were beautiful and gave the dish a very elegant look. Though they added a bitter element I didn’t enjoy. I’m not a big fan of dark chocolate so it may just be my personal preference that leads me to this perception. Dark chocolate lovers may find that the gold specks of chocolate add to the experience.
The service at Azurea was the best service we’ve seen in Jacksonville and some of the best I’ve ever seen. The serving of every course was like a choreographed dance with each person executing their role precisely. Too often high end restaurants work so hard to give their restaurant the feeling of exclusivity and importance that they accomplish this at the expense of allowing the guest to feel like themself in the environment. The team at Azurea orchestrated the experience in such a way that they made each guest feel important without making them feel uncomfortable. Their interactions made you feel cared for in a very natural and real way. They pulled off a graceful elegance that is truly rare to find.
If you’re looking for an impressive high end dining experience at the beach Azurea should be at the top of your list. An elegant space, amazing view, and an unmatched attention to detail sets Azurea apart from the rest.
Note: On this visit we were invited to try Azurea. They invited several food writers in town out for this event. Obviously when a restaurant knows we’re coming they present their very best. However, every visit we’ve made to Azurea has had the same obsessive attention to detail.