A visit to St. Augustine is always enjoyable. There’s the imposing Castillo de San Marcos, plenty of old world charm, the scenic Mantanzas River, lots of galleries and museums, and a wide variety of entertainment options. And when it comes to exceptional dining experiences, Michael’s, formerly Michael’s Tasting Room, is yet another remarkable attribute in this already noteworthy destination.
Michael’s is centrally located amidst historic Spanish architecture, replete with cobblestone streets and coquina walls. While not as old as the city itself, the restaurant is housed in one of the older structures in town – the Buchanti House. Of course, renovations have been necessary to keep the structure fully functional (especially after two consecutive years of devastating hurricanes).
Once inside, and after you are warmly greeted, things begin to get interesting. It’s hard to miss the simple elegance of its richly colored interiors, including lots of original paintings and craft works. According to Michael Lugo, executive chef and owner of Michael’s, “We go to great lengths to provide a unique and sensory experience. One that’s elevated but not stuffy.”
With an obvious attention to detail, from the way ingredients are sourced (working with high integrity farmers and ranchers) and recipes prepared (check out the Creamed Greens; for a dish this simple, it is quite remarkable), to the creative presentations that accompany every dish, the experience is truly outstanding.
While described as Spanish coastal cuisine, this could be a bit misleading. Chef Lugo explains: “My earliest culinary impressions come from my upbringing in Puerto Rico and the meals we enjoyed as a family. Everything that we do at Michael’s reflects my Caribbean and Spanish heritage and informs every dish we serve.”
Michael’s is not the place for paella and other stereotypical Spanish foods. It’s the place for expertly prepared seasonal seafoods, indulgent steaks, signature entrées, and a wonderful variety of starters and small plates that have all been deliciously transformed by Chef Lugo’s heritage and obvious culinary dexterity.
The Iberian Board, featuring a selection of cured Spanish meats and cheeses, is an excellent way to begin your gastronomic adventure. A few other starters of note include the Baked Blue (La Peral cheese baked in puff pastry with apple compote, candied walnuts, and local honeycomb), Lobster Ceviche (with diced pineapple, red onions, chiles and cilantro tossed in lime juice, served with plantain chips), and Spanish Mushrooms (sautéed with garlic, fino sherry, parsley and butter). For seafood lovers, the Gran Plateau (oysters, shrimp, ahi tuna, and sous vide lobster with traditional accompaniments) could be just the ticket.
Of course, the main dishes that feature fresh seafood, exceptional cuts of beef, and locally sourced produce, cannot be overlooked.
The Roasted Branzino (Mediterranean sea bass with Marcona almond herb butter) was simply prepared, flavorful and satisfying. For the more adventurous, signature entrées such as the Chuleta (a one-pound heritage long bone pork chop served crispy with guava datil sauce, tostones and chimichurri), or Risotto (creamy arborio rice with local mushrooms, duck confit, shaved Parmesan and truffles) are certainly worthwhile. For this issue of Cinda’s Cellar, our attention was drawn to the Wagyu Beef Cheeks (tender braised beef with yuca mofongo mash and roasted baby carrots).
Flavorful reminders of Chef Lugo’s culinary heritage are key to all the dishes on the menu. Sometimes it’s the main ingredient that’s most impressive. Other times it’s simply one or two lovely little touches of flavor that surprise and delight. For the Beef Cheeks, it was the inclusion of the yuca mofongo mash, a traditional Puerto Rican dish.
Before you dive into any of these oh-so tempting options, you’ll want to invest a little time in the restaurant’s extensive wine list – one that has been prepared with obvious attention to detail. With sufficient variety in terms of appellation, varietal, and price, there is no shortage of choices for wines by the glass or bottle.
As a companion to the Wagyu Beef Cheeks, we selected the Archery Summit 2016 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. Archery Summit is an Oregon-based winemaker celebrating more than two decades of estate-grown Pinot Noir production. This particular wine is approachable, easy on the palate, displays obvious notes of cherry and raspberry, with a well-balanced savory finish. We found that, given time to breathe, the wine’s complexity became increasingly more apparent and, better still, even more enjoyable.
It goes without saying, no visit to St. Augustine would be complete without a leisurely meal at Michael’s. Chef Lugo indicates that his is a voice that advocates good food, new flavors, new techniques, all prepared and served in a manner that is comfortable, engaging, and memorable. Hey, Chef … We hear you.
Michael’s, 25 Cuna Street, St. Augustine, (904) 810-2400, michaelssa.com.
By Jeffrey Spear
Get Chef Lugo’s recipe for Wagyu Beef Cheeks with Yuca Mofongo Mash here.
Pair it with:
2016 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir
Grapes: Pinot Noir
This seductive, elegant wine leads with vibrant floral notes of lilac and violet. These floral components are joined by touches of cherry, red raspberry, blood orange, and a hint of cocoa powder. Secondary notes of black licorice, berry bramble, and rosemary complement the leading fruit flavors. The flavors are persistent and saturating, enveloping the palate and lingering through a refined, balanced finish.
As the climate changes, we are experiencing riper and riper Oregon Pinot Noirs. The 2016 Archery Summit Dundee Hills Pinot Noir is a generous, large volume wine. With its aromas and flavors of black fruit with a shading of oak it pairs very well with grilled salmon fillets.