When we received a media invitation to Cypress Village Senior Living, we were honestly not sure what to expect. As we drove through the hidden community off San Pablo Road, we were floored at how this beautiful neighborhood has stayed a secret for this long. Quaint houses on tree lined streets lead towards a central building with the dining room and smaller apartments. We were warmly welcomed through the main dining room upon arrival and into a smaller, private dining room overlooking a lake with a wooden deck complete with fireplace and comfortable chairs. The private dining room is specifically for events for the residents of Cypress Village and can be reserved with private staff and special menus. Chef Thomas Rivers is the force behind the dining experience at Cypress Village, and he is a force to be reckoned with. Chef Thomas has years of previous experience in fine dining, including One Ocean, on his mile long culinary resume. The soft spoken chef is remarkably humble and radiates his passion for the food he and his team are producing at Cypress Village. We were seated and one of the most decadent and memorable meals of my entire life proceeded to unfold course by course.
Our amuse bouche consisted of a shot glass of watermelon, kaffir lime, and consommé mixed with gelatin, which was strained and left with the purest and cleanest taste of summertime and sunshine in juice form. After that moment I realized that we were in for one incredible culinary experience. Next came the first course, which was a roasted beet salad with whipped goat cheese, baby greens, and a vanilla bean and shallot vinaigrette. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – beets are the most underrated vegetable in the world. When prepared correctly they are incredibly sweet and these were no exception. The dressed greens were wrapped in a crouton of sorts that served as a bowl and then placed on top of a layer of whipped goat cheese with the beets and tomatoes on the side. I don’t like salad, but if all salads tasted like this, I’d eat only salad. The sweet vanilla bean dressing with the finishing flavor of earthy shallots was unbelievable.
Chef Thomas followed our light salad course with our second course of Scallops and Pork Belly. The pork belly was braised in lavender and bourbon, which cut down on the usual saltiness of the pork and left an ever-so-slight floral flavor. This was placed on top of a square of carrot puree beside a caramelized fig, a bulb of roasted fennel, and the most tremendous scallop that I’ve seen in recent memory. The plating on this dish is the best I’ve seen in Jacksonville and comparatively is something we have seen from the finest dining establishments in the country. The colors were as vibrant and unique as the flavors in this dish. The scallop was sweet and meaty, the baby fennel was much more toned down than my usual encounters with it, and the caramelized fig was pure sugared heaven. The pork belly simply melted. Most of the pork belly in Jacksonville is overcooked and tough. Chef Thomas’s experience shone through on his preparation of this dish. It’s imprinted on me as one of the food experiences that’s permanently changed my perception on presentation and unexpected symbiotic flavors.
That fine dining course was followed by comfort food at its finest with the third course of Chicken N Biscuits. The twist on this traditional favorite was Parisian sweet potatoes, and the most incredible cippolini onions. The biscuits were made into a bread pudding texture and stuffed inside a chicken breast which was surrounded by the sweet potatoes, onions, and a calvados pan jus. This dish incorporated all the traditional flavors of chicken and biscuits, while at the same time completely changed the chicken and biscuit game. It was sinfully delicious and buttery. To juxtapose the comfort food course, the fourth course brought us foie gras and duck confit in croque monsieur form, though not like any croque monsieur you’ve ever tasted. Fois gras is a divisive ingredient and not all diners prefer the texture or flavor. Chef Thomas’s fois gras is unreal. His preparation of foie gras removes all of the gaminess and leaves a silky, sensual flavor behind. Paired with cardamom, brioche, orange mascarpone, and a port wine and vanilla bean reduction, this course stole the show. Our table of 10 all went dead silent as we savored every bite. It was breathtaking and I can say with confidence could compete with any restaurant’s fois gras anywhere in the country.
While we all sat and contemplated how our lives were changed forever by the fois gras and duck confit, we were presented with our fifth course, which while perhaps the most simple course, was surprisingly my personal favorite. Seared Chilean Sea Bass was layered on an Anson Mills grit cake and served with a baby heirloom tomato sofrito. The running joke around JRR is that when Brittny cries, they all know it’s a good dish. This was the course that got me. The familiar flavors of seafood and grits (I grew up in Mississippi and Louisiana) were all there, but in grown up version with bold flavors and delicate preparation. Anson Mills grits are the finest around, and they were remarkable here in the well textured and hearty grit cake. The tomatoes were tender and perfectly acidic to balance the salty grit cake and sweet fish. I wish I could put into words the emotions that ran through me while eating this, but it was the true manifestation of an umami explosion. After this course, we had a palette cleanser of a prosecco and prickly pear sorbet which was basically the deconstructed popsicle of my dreams, while Chef Thomas prepared the final savory course.
Our grande finale was Wagyu ribeye with crispy smashed potatoes, braised carrot, and a cabernet demi-glace. Wagyu beef is the ultimate of decadent meats and this proved no different. Served rare, the beef was fork tender and deeply rich with the demi-glace. Our table went silent again while we all contemplated that this could be the apex of steak eating in our lives.
To finish, Chef Thomas brought out a butterscotch creme brûlée that after broken, revealed a liquid butterscotch base beneath the custard. The texture was so unique going from breaking the crisp sugar, to the creamy custard, to the familiar taste of butterscotch at the bottom. It was a table favorite. Throughout the meal we all planned our retirements into this community, because if retirement means eating like this, I’m ready to head that way now. Cypress Village is open to residents 55 and above and the rent is remarkably reasonable. After leaving dinner, I called my parents and demanded that they move to Jacksonville to retire because A) I love them and want the best for them – and Cypress Village is the best, and B) selfishly I can’t wait 25 more years to eat this food again. Brookdale, the parent organization, clearly understands true elegance, luxury, and how to create a food lover’s dream. Anyone looking to retire soon owes Cypress Village a visit. I know I’m still dreaming of enjoying daily meals there one day. They’re truly the best kept culinary secret in Jacksonville and have elevated the food scene. Lucky for us, we’ve had a taste of what our future holds when we retire, and we highly encourage anyone looking for a community to make Cypress Village your first and last stop. It is truly a foodie paradise.
Note: From time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant or to taste new menu items. This meal is usually comped, as this one was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place. Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.