BITE-SIZED

Savory, Stylish, Not Stuffy

Avondale favorite Orsay continues to impress

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A question I get asked regularly: "What are your three favorite restaurants in Jacksonville?" Without missing a beat, I rattle off my favorite, Avondale's very own Orsay. (The other two require a bit more thought.) I often take out-of-town guests, co-workers and friends for there drinks, dinner or special occasions.

From the moment I walk through the door, to the last morsel of homemade ice cream I devour, Orsay never fails to provide a fantastic experience. A tough day can quickly be forgotten upon entering Orsay, with its dim lights, flickering white candles, modern wallpaper, exposed rustic wood rafters and hip music wafting through the air. Creative cocktails and a ridiculously awesome happy hour don't hurt, either.

It's rare that I order an entrée (and I can't order lunch beacause the spot's only open for dinner and weekend brunch) because I crave so many of Orsay's appetizers. Evenings begin with a cheese plate and oysters. Sometimes I opt for raw oysters, other times I gravitate toward the roasted oysters with salty bacon, spinach and melted parmigiano-reggiano cheese — perfectly smooth and smoky.

The escargots (yes, that's French for snails), served in the shell, with a garlicky butter and thick, sautéed portobello mushroom slices, are a savory delicacy. They're served with crusty bread, perfect for sopping up the extra garlic butter.

The crunchy haricots vert (pronounced "airicovair," not "hair-ih-cots verts") are thin French green beans. Together with roasted hazelnuts, ripe halved grape tomatoes and a tangy crème fraiche vinaigrette, they make for a light salad too good to pass up.

In my opinion, the combo of chefs Jonathan Insetta (also of Black Sheep Restaurant) and Brian Siebenschuh creates "Top Chef" quality.

The steak frites — a perfectly cooked hangar steak with a salty, seared crust, served with a tower of thinly cut crisp frites fried in duck fat for extra flavor — are an Orsay dinner staple. Many hearty menu options abound: lobster pot pie, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, sea scallops, duck breast and pork shank, to name a few favorites. I recommend a side of the earthy truffle cavatappi mac 'n' cheese (served in a small, cast-iron cauldron) as some of the tastiest in town.

The cocktails are top-notch, using freshly squeezed juices and muddled herbs. There's an extensive wine list and there are always plenty of beers, including a few local favorites, on draft.

Desserts change seasonally, so ask what's new. The rotating homemade ice cream and sorbet flavors are creative and fun. The carnivalesque caramel popcorn ice cream is a perfect marriage of salty, sweet and creamy.

The formal dining room, the casual lounge area, the private dining room or outside patio space all exude a feeling of class without stuffiness. Folio Weekly readers agreed and voted it Best Restaurant to Impress a Date for the past three years. It also won the highly acclaimed title of Best Restaurant. 

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