About a year ago - I posted a message here on St. Augustine restaurants. Mentioned that Opus 39 had received good reviews - but hadn't dined there yet. My husband and I dined there - and I have this to report. Since I think this is a "destination restaurant" (perhaps I wouldn't fly from Paris to dine here - but I'd certainly drive from Orlando) - I'm adding a bit about the area for people who aren't familiar with it.
We live in St. Johns County (one county south of Duval County/Jacksonville). Our county seat is St. Augustine. The oldest city in the US (really). It's small - and quaint - and somewhat touristy. But the local powers that be have prevented it from turning into wall to wall t-shirt shops (architectural review boards aren't all bad!). St. Augustine is 30 minutes from our house - nice drive on A1A along the ocean - and we enjoy going there several times a month.
Some of the restaurants in St. Augustine are ok - but I've never found one to rave about. This week I did.
Opus 39 has been open for a few years. We had lunch there a while back. Very good. But it was - well - lunch. We continued to hear a lot of good chatter about the place - and decided to try it for dinner.
To make a long story short - Opus 39 is a superb restaurant. I would not be unhappy to get the meal I had tonight - a 5 course tasting menu priced at only $55 - in New York - LA - or San Francisco. And - in terms of Florida - there are only a few restaurants that I've dined at in the last few years that are in the same class (Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach - Casa Tua in Miami Beach - and Mosaico in Miami come to mind). And I think the meal I had tonight at Opus 39 was perhaps better than the meals I've had in those other places.
The menu changes nightly - and there are usually 2 choices for 4 courses - and 3 choices for the meat course. Since I was dining with my husband - we had everything on the menu except the third meat course. I have included a link to the restaurant's website in this message. There's a recent menu on the website to give you an idea of the dishes the restaurant serves. Of course - there is no guarantee you will see any of these dishes on the night you choose to dine. But - since everything we had - and I mean everything - was very good ---> terrific - I would be content simply to arrive at the restaurant - and see what the chef and his staff have prepared for me on any particular night.
One reason the menu changes is the chef here is a dedicated shopper as well as a dedicated cook. He goes to the markets on a regular basis (including local farmers' markets right here in St. Johns County - a lot of our county is rural) - picks the produce and other ingredients that look best - and then figures out how to incorporate them into the menu. Since we don't have the same range of high end ingredients that you might find in a city like New York - he also sources certain items from out of town if what's to be found here isn't up to snuff.
There are certain things you can't tell from the menu. Like the restaurant makes its own bread. And the bread we had was delicious. The restaurant has just hired a chef from Baltimore who - among other things - loves to bake bread. He's been there about two weeks - and I hope he decides to stay.
My only criticism of the restaurant is that - like so many high end restaurants here and elsewhere - it does not have a full bar. This is probably more of a comment on the intricacies of state liquor laws than restaurants. Still - I would like to see more places with full bars (since I prefer spirits to beer and wine). And - state liquor laws have some other strange effects on restaurants. If I understand things correctly (and there is a possibility I don't) - Opus 39 itself does not have a liquor license. But there is a room at the back of the restaurant (which is part of the restaurant) that has a beer and wine package store license. So - when you first walk in - you go to the back of the restaurant and select your wine. There's a bar in this room where you can sample a fair number of wines before you buy. There are wines by the glass. As well as bottles. And the restaurant will open any bottle it has for you if you pay for a minimum of two glasses. There is a complete discussion of the extensive wine menu - and how it is served - on the restaurant's website.
For those of you who aren't familiar with St. Augustine - it's a nice place to spend a night or two if you're passing through (St. Augustine is just off I-95 a bit south of Jacksonville). It could also make a nice overnight if you live in central/north/Panhandle Florida or south Georgia. A day of beach/sightseeing and a dinner at Opus 39 - followed by a night at one of the many B&B's or the new Hilton would make for a nice celebration of whatever you happen to be celebrating. Robyn
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