If you’ve visited the commercial district in Neptune Beach, you know that it is rapidly becoming a gastronomic epicenter. What started out as a modest collection of basic eateries and questionable watering holes is now an eclectic mix of trendy bars and restaurants, some of the most popular in town.
One of the most recent additions is Doro. Its owner and chef, Christopher Polidoro, was ready for a lifestyle change after years on the culinary fast track in New York. After working in many of the city’s best known restaurants, as well as enjoying a twelve-year engagement as personal chef for one of television’s most admired journalists, he decided upon the casual lifestyle that Jacksonville provides just east of “the ditch.” With a focus on good food and a good time, Polidoro adds his namesake restaurant to the growing array of dining options that are making Neptune Beach a culinary hotbed.
Once you open the door, you’ll see that the setting at Doro is intimate, unpretentious, and easy on the eyes. While defined as casual, there is a tremendous amount of care and attention to detail in every aspect of operation.
Prominently tagged as New American cuisine, a culinary term describing anything that cannot be labeled by ethnicity or geographic origin, Polidoro says his approach “features simply prepared dishes using the freshest ingredients with subtle global influences.” Having been taught truth-in-menus while attending culinary school, he shuns the term “farm to table,” admitting that local harvests may not be sufficient to supply his restaurant every day of the week. He does, however, maintain relationships with many of the farmers throughout the region, knows them all by name, and features their products whenever possible.
After a quick survey of the menu, it was clear that Doro would not deliver a typical Jacksonville dining experience. While the dishes may be straightforward and honest, they embrace the rich culinary vocabulary Polidoro learned and refined in the Big Apple.
Some of the more intriguing and exotic ingredients on the menu are saba (an Italian syrup made from grape musts), watermelon radishes (when sliced, they look like watermelon), gnudi (a gnocci-like dumpling), ponzu (a Japanese, citrus-based sauce), and purple grits (milled by Congaree & Penn, a local grower, from purple rice). Without a doubt, Polidoro likes to make something fun and enjoyable happen on the plate and does not hesitate to add a little special something.
Of course, we had to sample more than a few offerings to see just how much delight we would derive from his creations. Since we had never heard of purple rice (eggplant, turnips, onions, carrots, cauliflower, and potatoes were the only purple-hued veggies we could remember), the evening would not be complete without a taste of the purple grits. We also sampled Tomato Soup with goat cheese gnudi, Pork Schnitzel with a spicy sweet dressing, Duck Breast with rhubarb and beets, Sea Scallops with fava beans, pistachios and apricot vinaigrette, and Glazed Short Ribs with mushroom mousse.
It is important to mention that Polidoro promotes the idea that wine pairing completes the perfect meal. While still being fine-tuned, their wine list provides an ample selection by the glass or bottle – something perfect for whatever you may be having.
Since we wanted to sample so many dishes, and wanted wines to go with each, we cracked open a bottle of Squealing Pig 2015 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) and a Stags Leap 2012 Viognier (California).
We found the sauvignon blanc a little on the sweet side, jammy, and exploding with notes of grapefruit and passionfruit. The viognier displayed characteristics that, while enjoyable, were different from what we expected from a typical viognier. Both wines, however, were quite drinkable and would pair well with many of Doro’s offerings. Other than the scallops, our selections were meatier and heavier than these white varietals could support. Recognizing this shortcoming, our server recommended a Bodega Norton 2015 Barrel Select Malbec (Argentina); a suggestion that proved to be a perfect match for the duck and short ribs.
We found all of Doro’s staff attentive and ready to offer insights and recommendations. When asked about our selections, the server admitted that working at Doro means she can recommend everything without hesitation. And when faced with unfamiliar ingredients (we learned that the purple shavings on the short ribs were grated purple daikon), well-informed explanations were always available.
Needless to say, we had an enjoyable adventure and learned something new about food along the way. Doro is pleasant and relaxing, worth the visit after a nice day at the beach, or for city dwellers looking for something new and different beyond the confines of the urban core.
Doro, 106 1st St., Neptune Beach, 853-6943, restaurantdoro.com.
Click here for Chef Christopher Polidoro’s recipe for Coffee-Cured Salmon, Hazelnuts, Fennel and Raisins
Pair it with:
Squealing Pig Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Description: Sourced from hidden vineyards in the Awatere Valley, New Zealand, this little pig is packed with passionfruit and herbaceous aromas on the nose. On the palate, it’s all about bass crisp, citrus flavors with a long finish. Best to drink when young and fresh.
Squealing Pig is a tale about a pig who wanted more from life than just his pig pen. Keen on wine without the super dry boar-ing bits, he went on an adventure to Marlborough and Central Otago seeking out wines with a difference on New Zealand’s South Island. He discovered a punchy, jaw-dropping 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from the Squealing Pig Vineyard in the Awatere Valley. The vineyard produces bold, fresh, fruit-driven wines made to be enjoyed young, “ideally with some crackin’ food, hip tunes and great people.”
Squealing Pig’s 2015 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is the winner of Decanter World Wine Awards, 2016: Bronze; and Air New Zealand Wine Awards, 2015: Pure Bronze.
By Jeffrey Spear