Aug 142012
 
Casa Monica Hotel, St Augustine, Photo Courtesy of the zimmerman agency

St Augustine is the nation’s oldest city –established in 1565 by Spanish explorer Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles. The Casa Monica is St Augustine’s only AAA Four Diamond resort with an almost 125 year history dating back to when the hotel first opened its doors in January of 1888. The hotel was built by Franklin W Smith who later sold the hotel to Henry Flagler for $325, 000 – who named it Hotel Cordova. He later closed its doors in 1932 and later sold it in 1962 for $250,000 where is served as county courthouse for over 30 years until being purchased by Richard Kessler in 1997. Kessler made 10 million dollars in renovations and re-opened the hotel in 1999. As it stands today, it features 138 Spanish-style guest rooms and a unique dining experience at their signature restaurant, 95 Cordova, featuring an eclectic, seasonally-inspired menu.

Main Lobby, Casa Monica Hotel, St Augustine, Photo Courtesy of the zimmerman agency

Chris and I had the privilege of attending their media dinner to taste and review their summer menu as well as a stay overnight in the luxurious hotel.

We have stayed at the Casa Monica many times in the past, but this room was the best!

Our room at the Casa Monica Hotel, St Augustine

After arriving at the hotel and settling into our room, our first stop for the event was the reception/cocktail hour at the Grand Bohemian Art Gallery to meet the group that included the organizer’s of the event, Nicole and Mycah from the zimmermn agency  - the Casa Monica’s PR firm, the General Manager of the Casa Monica, Anthony Lazzara and other bloggers and media from the local area – Jacksonville Magazine, George Singeltary from examiner.com, Jacksonville Wine Guide, Nancy White from Nourish The BeastAllie Olsen form Simply St Augustine and Jessica from First Bite.

 
After a cocktail or two and a browse around the gallery we walked back to the lobby for a guided tour from Anthony – he discussed the rich history of the Casa Monica Hotel, Kessler’s extensive art collection and attention to detail in the decor.

 

All the details on the archways in the Casa Monica are stenciled by hand
Each of the 138 rooms in the Casa Monica are unique. This particular one was a two story suite.
Hand painted gold leaf details
at the Casa Monica Hotel

After our tour was complete we migrated to a private room in the beautiful dining room to begin our meal – complete with wine pairings for each course.
95 Cordova, Photo Courtesy of the zimmerman agency




Executive Chef Harlan Walden and Executive Sous Chef Tim Haire speaking about their menu selections

**Before I get started – I notated what I thought was gluten free, vegan or vegetarian. If you have food allergies, always check with your server to ensure there are no hidden allergens.

Ceretto Moscato di Asti

Appetizer
The Kessler Calamari is a favorite on the menu at 95 Cordova and I could see why – it was perfectly crispy with fresh cilantro, olives and a Moroccan aioli that blend together to form a perfect medley of flavor and texture.


Kessler Calamari

Course I

For the first course I received a tuna tartare. The fish was soft and mild with aromatic cilantro and creamy avocado. On the side was a few dabs of spicy sriracha.  I would definitely order this option if it were on the regular menu. 
Gluten Free
Tuna Tartare
 The first course was accompanied by a Ceretto Moscato di Asti with Chamboard added in.  I thought that was a fun mix of flavors – sweet and rich.
Ceretto Moscato di Asti with Chamboard

Their fresh bread is typically accompanied by butter with sea salt – so the accommodating the wait staff brought out some thick, sweet-tart balsamic reduction and basil oil for me. I do believe everyone was eyeing my serving in jealousy.
The balsamic reduction and oil is vegan and gluten free options but the bread may have eggs and/or dairy.
Fresh bread with balsamic reduction
While I enjoyed the tuna, the rest of the group tasted a crispy seared duck breast with blackberry compote.  The presentation was lovely and I like the idea of a crispy, rich protein with the sweet blackberry sauce.  I’d love to recreate the textures and flavors in a vegan dish.
Chris’s seared duck breast with blackberry compote and crispy Yukon gold hash

Course II
This pineapple, cucumber and fresh cilantro salad was a refreshing and simple - a nice break between the heavier protein based dishes. (And a great reminder that simple can be delicious.)
Vegan and Gluten Free
Pineapple cucumber salad with cilantro

Course III
The third course was a summery and fun watermelon granita with sea salt – reminiscent of the hot days of childhood with sweet watermelon, enhanced only by a sprinkle of salt.
Vegan and Gluten free
Watermelon granita with sea salt

Course IV
Two meaty sea scallops crusted with coriander over a bed of smooth and filling, whipped black beans and a bright, clean corn salsa with cilantro.  I LOVED this dish – each flavor shone through and complemented the next.
For a vegan and gluten free option – ask for the black beans, salsa and cilantro only and forgo the scallops.
Coriander crusted sea scallops with whipped black beans, roasted corn salsa, citrus chili aioli and cilantro oil

Course V
Pork Osso Bucco was the dish served to the rest of the group.  It was accompanied by truffled sweet mashed potatoes, roasted brussels and parsnips.
My fellow diners gave this dish rave reviews – it was my husband Chris’s favorite of the night.
Chris’s braised pork osso bucco with truffled sweet mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts and parsnips

I was served a seafood pasta dish with fresh peas, arugula and sun dried tomatoes.
For a vegetarian option ask ask to hold the seafood, there may be eggs in the pasta.  If you are vegan, ask your server for options.
My seafood pasta with fresh peas, sun dried tomato and arugula



Chris’s Earl Grey panna cotta with tea cookie and fresh berries
Dessert
For the grand finale I got a fruit compote with mint and tea cookies – a light ending to a fairy tale meal.
Overall, the meal and atmosphere were both perfect for a special occasion, yet simple enough for a weeknight meal. I could see myself ordering the pineapple and cucumber salad with the scallop dish on a regular occasion. It was hard to pick a favorite, as each was delicious in its own way – but if I had to pick one it would be the tuna. It was a large portion and I loved the texture and citrus-avocado flavor.
After dinner, Chris and I wanted to walk off some of the meal so we hit the town, visiting A1A Ale Works, Scarlett O’Hara’s and Cellar 6.
Chris and Me at Cellar 6, St Augustine
The next morning I was up early as usual, so I made a fresh batch of the Starbucks coffee offered in the room and walked out to relax in the hot tub….
Up the next morning at the pool.

….and take a dip in the pool.
MANY thanks to the Casa Monica Hotel, 95 Cordova and the zimmerman agency for putting this event together.  Until next time….

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