Located in the heart of San Marco, Bistro Aix offers an excitement and energy that truly is unmatched. The exposed brick walls of the restaurant’s interior create a coziness that contrasts sharply with the buzz bursting from the always packed dining room and open kitchen. It’s the sort of place you’d want to take clients for a great night out and also the kind of spot that would be at the top of our list of places to impress a date. Not all that hungry? An amazing bar area complete with couches to cozy up on awaits just across the main dining room. From the classic and wonderfully simple French dish Steak Frittes to the foodie fave bone marrow, Bistro Aix offers high end options everyone can enjoy.
Bistro Aix experienced a change in executive chefs and in ownership over the past year or so. Sometimes a change like this can be detrimental. In this case it’s reinvigorated a restaurant that has long been a leader in high end dining. With this change their menu has seen some great new additions while keeping old favorites. Just this month Bistro Aix also kicked off their new raw bar with options ranging from oysters to high end caviar for the raw food connoisseur. We kicked things off with 6 raw oysters($16) from the Bistro AIX’s new raw bar. These were served with Mignonette, tomato-horseradish “pearls”, and fresh lemon. The two oysters on offer were the Blue Point Long Island and James Island Virginia varieties. The Blue Point were quite large with a fairly mild flavor. The James Island oysters had a much fuller flavor which we particularly enjoyed. The mignonette (a sauce typically made with minced shallots, cracked pepper, and vinegar) was a nice option as opposed to the cocktail sauce and horseradish often served with raw oysters.
Next we indulged in a charcuterie plate. The selections we experienced on this occasion were wild boar seasoned with clove and juniper berry, 5-year Gouda- Cow’s milk salty sweet caramel with a hint of butterscotch, and Humboldt Fog- Goat’s milk, subtle, tangy, oral notes. The plate was served with spiced whole grain mustard, honey comb, almonds, and cornichons. For me the Humboldt Fog was the real standout. It was nice and milky with subtle flavors that added something pleasant beyond your basic goat’s milk cheese. The wild boar was something a bit out of the ordinary. It reminded me a bit of a lighter jerky.
As far as salads go Bistro Aix’s roasted beet salad ($6 sm/$8 lg) ranks up there with some of the best in town. It is served with golden and red beets, oranges, arugula, goat cheese, red onions, and a citrus vinaigrette. Even if you’re not big on beets this one might tickle your fancy. As an avowed beet hater I actually enjoyed it. Next up was the Steak tartare ($14). We’ve now tried steak tartare at a variety of different spots around town and I have to say this is our favorite so far and it’s not even close. If you’re not huge on mustard then most tartares served in Jax won’t be something you really enjoy. Every one we’ve tried in Jax has a strong if not overpowering mustard flavor. Bistro Aix’s steak tartare is mild yet flavorful with a quail egg over top which adds another nice layer of flavor. If you’re looking for mustard go elsewhere. If you’re looking for great steak tartare…..Bistro Aix.
Veal bone marrow($18) is one thing chefs and hardcore foodies constantly rave about but something the average diner has never tried. It had been on my list of things to experience for some time but I hadn’t had the chance. Prior to this visit to Bistro Aix I’ve never seen it on a menu in Jacksonville. Bistro Aix serves theirs in bone marrow “canoes” (still in the bone sliced down the middle). Take a knife, scoop it out of the bone, spread it onto one of the large crostinis it is served with, and take a bite. The veal bone marrow tastes like the most flavorful meaty gravy you’d ever have. If you can get past the gelatin texture there’s a good chance you’ll love bone marrow if you love meat.
The next dish we tried was the Scottish Salmon($20 sm/$28 lg)- Lentil, Pancetta & Portobello mushroom succotash, Crème Fraiche. What we enjoyed about this dish was how well the bitterness in the sorrel cream sauce it was served in worked with the flavor of the salmon. Bitter flavors can often be challenging to work into dishes in a way that doesn’t detract from the other flavors in the dish. Bistro Aix certainly rose to the challenge with their Scottish Salmon. We’ll be back for this dish specifically.
One of the great traditional French dishes we love is cassoulet. If you’re in the mood for a hearty stew on your visit to Bistro Aix this dish is a good choice. In each bite you will experience a variety of flavors from the bread crumb topping, to the duck, to the spices in the sausage, to the herbs giving flavor to the stew. This dish really takes your taste buds for a ride on a carousel of flavors. Our only complaint with this dish was the duck was very salty. This dish is new to the menu so I imagine they’ll get that sorted out pretty soon.
Pecorino Romano Risotto ($15 sm/$22 lg)- Oxtail ragout, wild mushroom, pea tendrils, watermelon radish, fresh basil. Oxtail is a very fatty meat. When you go to a soul food restaurant and you’re served oxtail on the bone you can often even see the fat. The fat adds flavor but also adds a texture most people don’t particularly enjoy. In this case Chef Ian Lynch has managed to put together a dish that delivers all the flavor while withholding all of the fatty texture. This dish sets the bar for oxtail risotto in my book.
For dessert we tried the Provençal merengue($8)- baked lavender-thyme, fresh merengue lemon curd, mint basil oil. Right out of the gate the strong acidity of the lemon curd grabs your tastebuds, then the sweetness of the merengue kicks in and gently takes you from tart to sweet. If you’re looking for a dessert unlike most you’ve tried before this might just fit the bill.
The service we received at Bistro Aix was second to none! The waitress was as knowledgable about the menu as any we’ve encountered. She seemed to always have useful little details to share about each dish. She visited the table enough to make sure we were well taken care of without ever seeming overbearing. Service at Bistro Aix is top notch. The one big drawback to dining at Bistro Aix is the noise level of the restaurant. Since the restaurant is always busy and in an older building without great acoustics, the noise level can be a bit louder than some people will find enjoyable. It’s a great place to dine out with a group but don’t expect a quiet night out away from the kids. If you’d prefer a quieter atmosphere try sitting in the bar area rather than the main dining room.
Overall we’d say Bistro Aix is one place you must make sure to experience while you’re exploring the Jacksonville restaurant scene. They offer a variety of dishes you likely won’t find anywhere else in town such as their veal bone marrow “canoes” or their American Hackleback Caviar. It’s a great place to entertain the discerning diner from out of town or to take the wife for dinner before catching a movie. In so many ways it embodies what Jacksonville’s fine dining scene should be.
Note: On this visit we were invited to try Bistro Aix. When we’re invited for a meal it is normally comped as was this one. We see the restaurant’s A game when they know we’re coming so keep that in mind when reading the review.