We recently had one of the loveliest dinners, where the stars align, the weather is perfect, the food is delectable, and the wait staff is impeccable. That sounds like something you want a piece of, right? I’m no weather forecaster, but for delicious food and sharp service, find yourself at Ovinte in the St. John’s Town Center. Ovinte was actually the 3rd restaurant we ever reviewed. It’s been a favorite of ours ever since that visit and this trip just reinforced how much we love the place.
Ovinte greets their guests with a trendy, modern, yet relaxed atmosphere. Most of the restaurant contains wide, low profile couches, with tables around the perimeter of the space. The wait staff wears a uniform of pewter button up shirts and jeans. The patio is partially covered by a pergola, and feels a bit removed from the concrete jungle by plants, greenery, a very practical herb garden, and even a bocce ball court. The music is familiar and pleasant with a mix of U2, Adele, John Legend, and the like.
Ovinte has a generous offering of wines by the glass and the bottle, and a collection of unique cocktails. We tried the Fountain of Youth-($9) Strawberry-rosemary house infused St Augustine vodka house-made sour ginger ale. It tasted like a Tuesday afternoon playing hooky from work. It was light, sweet, and just barely carbonated. The strawberry and rosemary flavors play off of each other beautifully. Our waitress told us the Fountain of Youth is one of the most popular cocktails at Ovinte and we can see why. This versatile drink would be great with brunch, lunch, or dinner.
For our meal we shared several tapas, an entree, and dessert. We began with the bacon wrapped dates($5)-Medjool dates stuffed with mahon cheese, apple wood smoked bacon. Um hello, bacon candy! These hefty dates are stuffed with a mild, nutty cheese and wrapped with bacon. When you bite into it you notice two things. The first is the bacon is nice and crisp. The second is the sweet date with salty bacon tastes like bacon and brown sugar in your mouth. While there are other restaurants that do bacon wrapped dates, Ovinte does an exceptional version of this dish.
Next we had the ceviche($8)- Local fish marinated with citrus, onion, radish, olive & peppers served with house made tortilla chips. The ceviche of the evening was grouper. It was a chunky, slightly unorthodox ceviche, with diced kalamata olives playing on the citrus and cilantro. The olives sound like a strange addition, but they worked well.
From one raw protein dish to another, we gave the tartare a shot($12)-Diced beef tenderloin, arugula, shallots, capers, parmigiano, sherry mustard vinaigrette. The thing that Ovinte always gets right is the little details. The tartare was no exception. Served with crostini, arugula, and shaved parmigiana, every component of this dish complimented each other, from texture to flavor.
Up next were the Moroccan pork skewers($7)- Grilled pork seasoned with moorish spices, arugula salad, fig gastrique. These sounded good. They tasted even better. Tender, smoky, zingy, a little sweet. These guys come on a bed arugula. Don’t leave the arugula on your plate. Those peppery greens compliment the Moroccan pork perfectly.
The last tapa we tried was the Rollo Del Mar. They are basically a spring roll stuffed with seafood. Between the plated Stonehenge arrangement of Rollo Del Mar and the aioli, mango mustard, and micro greens, this dish was almost too beautiful to eat. We know mango is a great partner to seafood, but what we didn’t know was how great a partner mango is to mustard. The house made mango mustard had a mild, creamy taste. It was much more a sauce and just barely a mustard, which is exactly what the seafood rolls needed.
After all of those tapas we decided to share a small entree. We knew Ovinte made their own pasta and figured we ought to try it. We ordered the Pappardelle Bolognese($10)-Pork and veal simmered in tomato, house made Pappardelle pasta, shaved Parmigiano. Wow. There are two things to discuss here. One is the Papardelle (pasta). The other is the Bolognese (sauce with meat). Papardelle is an obscure pasta, most similar to a lasagna noodle. Papardelle are very wide, flat noodles, about an inch and a half wide. The quality of the pasta at Ovinte is hard to come by. In fact, we couldn’t think of a better pasta dish we’ve had in Jacksonville. The Bolognese itself was spectacular. It had a superb depth of flavor, thanks in part to some of the ingredients we noticed. Starch is great and all, but typically pasta dishes hit one note, with the pasta, sauce, and meat. The Bolognese at Ovinte had pork, veal diced carrots, and celery cooked in the sauce. The veggies didn’t mess with the texture at all, as they were soft-cooked, but they completely rounded out the flavor. It was salty and earthy in the best of ways. The Papardelle Bolognese is a home run of a dish.
We were getting pretty full, but decided to check out the dessert menu, just for you. Haha! Who are we kidding we can’t ever say no to dessert. Our selections were S’mores D’Ovinte($6) and Limoncello Bread Pudding($7).
I was excited about the Limoncello Bread Pudding because I have fond memories of Italian lemon desserts and limoncello. The Limoncello Bread Pudding at Ovinte is made with brioche, so you know it’s not your neighbor’s pot luck bread pudding. It was hot and dense, with a scoop of vanilla gelato melting into all of the nooks and crannies. It wasn’t very lemony. In fact, the lemon/limoncello was so subtle, if I hadn’t known it was limoncello bread pudding I may have missed the lemon aspect entirely. It wasn’t a bad dessert it just wasn’t in the same class as everything else we tried at Ovinte.
The s’mores were of course a modern take on the campfire favorite. There were three small s’more sandwiches served on a plate, dipped in dark chocolate, with a touch of salt and cocoa powder sprinkled on top. I took one look at the salt and doubted, but to my surprise and delight the s’mores were delicious. The s’mores would be a great dessert to share with a couple of friends because each one is about 2-3 bites, plus they are more delicious and less messy than the last time you accidentally caught your marshmallow on fire around the campfire.
Ovinte continues to serve inspired, delectable dishes with excellent care. When we asked ourselves what it was that set Ovinte apart from other restaurants, our answer was their attention to detail. Ovinte gets all the little things right that are so easy to get wrong (which many restaurants are guilty of). The wait staff are incredibly knowledgable about the menu and they can and will walk you through the entire menu in detail. We are fairly experienced diners at this point, but our waitress guided us well to our dinner choices. She made our dinner more enjoyable with her expertise, communication, and service (Thanks, Stephanie!).
The folks at Ovinte told us the only things they don’t do are “bake bread, cure meat, and make cheese”, but everything else on the menu they make in house. We find that a mite impressive, considering that includes housemade pasta and not a small patch of homegrown herbs. Next time you’re looking for a classy place to eat in the Town Center skip the chain restaurants and give Ovinte a try.
Note: We were invited out to Ovinte on this visit and the meal was comped. This in no way changes the opinions we express about a restaurant. Our commitment to you is we’ll never publish a review we don’t fully stand behind and believe in.