When news came that Chad Munsey and Wine Lounge Concepts partners Jacques Klempf and Fraser Burns had purchased the San Marco jewel, we waited a few months before venturing in. If, like many of us, you have not visited since Tom Gray packed his knives and left to create Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails, we think you’ll be pleased with the choices that have been made thus far.
One by one, many of the material changes that occurred in the past few years are being reversed as well. At first glance, the décor has changed only marginally. The familiar large, comfortable chairs and banquettes, exposed brick, gleaming white tile, and the restored dessert station all are comforting sights. Twenty-eight seats were removed to improve the flow of the space, and bar service has been relocated to the lounge, making the dining room experience more pleasant and somewhat less cacophonous.
There is a small, secluded courtyard offering outdoor seating as weather permits. Thankfully, parking isn’t quite the challenge it once was, with the addition of a valet and a few auxiliary lots behind the restaurant.
The most noticeable transformation is that the expanded kitchen now includes a Raw Bar, displaying an assortment of seafood sourced at the peak of freshness. Chilled, briny oysters, beautiful, cracked stone crab claws, plump, salty clams, tiny periwinkles and tender, house-smoked mussels were on offer the day we visited.
In-house smoking is also employed for the Smoked Tomato Soup, a Bistro Aix signature item since day one. Crusty, warm bread accompanies, great for slathering with butter or dipping into soups and sauces.
Recipes have been refined, with a renewed focus on Provençal French-influenced cuisine. In a welcome change, Munsey brought Executive Chef Ian Lynch back from Ovinté to manage the culinary transitions. Lynch started in that same kitchen as an intern out of Johnson and Wales, and worked his way up to Executive Sous Chef. We were happy to see his name back on the menu at Bistro Aix. He divides his time between Aix and Ovinté, and Chef D’Cuisine Zeke Mears ensures the continuity of the bill of fare, as he has done since the early days.
Wood-fired pizzas make lovely starters here, but consider a selection of Fromage and Charcuterie, perfect nibbles to accompany cocktails, presented on a classic slate board, with the expected accompaniments.
For an approachable introduction to Provençal dining, Chef Ian recommends Steak Frites, a peppercorn-crusted onglet steak, served with a brandy shallot cream sauce, herbed French fries and tender-crisp haricot vert. The rich, flavorful sauce makes the dish, and the result is not as full-on peppery as a typical Steak au Poivre. Dishes are available in half or full portions throughout the day, and the small portion of this dish makes a perfect lunch or light supper.
Fish Aixoise is a daily special, expertly pan seared and sauced. Our recent selection was served atop roasted fingerling potatoes and leek, balanced with accents of lemon, capers and herbs.
Braised Oxtail Risotto is a richly comforting interpretation of a classic, topped with wild mushrooms, watermelon radish and pea tendrils. The presentation allows the perfectly executed risotto to stand alone until the diner scoops in the savory oxtail ragout, and the two merge into bite after delicious bite.
Fines herbs and butter flavor a brined Roasted Chicken, served with a surprisingly smooth sweet potato puree and napped with a deep, rich jus. Nutty roasted Brussels sprouts and crispy, chewy lardons of pancetta lend richness and texture. Equally well paired with a glass of wine or a local craft brew, this relaxed, rustic dish is a great choice to enjoy in the dining room or in Bar X, where the entire restaurant menu is also available along with a solid wine list, craft cocktail selection and full bar.
Graceful, elegant desserts by pastry chef Kandice Kirkland are a must at Bistro Aix. The Provençal Meringue is Munsey’s favorite, a delicate lavender-thyme meringue with lemon curd, garnished with seasonal fruit and finished with a mint basil oil.
Equally enchanting is the Chocolate Glacé, a personal-sized, chocolate-enrobed chocolate chiffon cake, filled with raspberry jam and Parisienne cream. The chocolate and raspberries dance together beautifully in each bite.
French Press Coffee is the perfect accompaniment to dessert. Bistro Aix serves Martin Coffee in the French Press, as well as espresso and a variety of organic teas. Of course there is Cognac or brandy if you prefer a nightcap.
The menu at Bistro Aix will see even more seasonal updates, and the décor will continue to evolve as well. Those iconic gothic chairs? Munsey acknowledges it is possible they will be relegated to the private party room in favor of a slightly more contemporary look. If the impeccable interior design at Ovinté is any indication, we feel confident in the choices they will make here.
Some things will remain old school. Admittedly obsessed with perfection, Munsey impresses upon his staff that there is a certain standard of service one expects from Bistro Aix, and that they must strive to exceed that standard with every plate served, every drink poured, and every customer interaction.
Whether you are celebrating a special occasion or just a particularly nice day, Bistro Aix is the perfect setting for your next outing.
Jacksonville recently got a glimpse of what’s next for Munsey, when he and Wine Lounge Concepts partners announced plans to create the swank Cowford Chophouse in the newly acquired Bostwick Building. If it has his name on the menu, we are confident it will live up to the hype.
Lunch: Monday – Friday / 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Dinner: Monday – Thursday / 4 – 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday / 5 – 11 p.m. Sunday / 5 – 9 p.m. Happy Hour: Monday – Friday / 3:30. – 6:30 p.m. Live Music: Friday & Saturday / 8:30 – 11:30 p.m.
Article written by Nancy White
Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA.
Description: Brilliant ruby color with layers of cherry, raspberry and plum, and a hint of violet, surrounded by subtle spice. An elegant and silky mouthfeel with fine-grained tannins and firm acidity showcase the wine’s ripe, red fruit.
Au Contraire represents the first brand developed by Palm Bay International Fine Wines & Spirits. While the Taub family has focused on imports in recent years, their roots in the wine business are in California. Au Contraire is an exciting return to these roots after travelling a decades-long journey around the world. “Au contraire” is an expression often used by Palm Bay’s beloved company founder, David S. Taub, and often preceded an insight that typically took a turn from conventional wisdom. Au Contraire, the first of the Taub Family Vineyards Selections, exemplifies a commitment to developing outstanding quality wine offerings in key California appellations. A Wine Enthusiast Magazine Editor’s Choice, this light and spicy Pinot Noir is a blend of Sonoma Coast vineyards from Sebastopol, CA to the new Fort-Ross Seaview AVA overlooking the Pacific.