by Damon Noisette // photo by Agnes Lopez
Choosing to break away from history and tradition in the Oldest City could be a recipe for trouble, especially for a well regarded property like the Casa Monica Hotel. Its restaurant, 95 Cordova, was a fine dining staple of St. Augustine.
Costa Brava, a new concept, was unveiled in early June, along with the debut of executive chef Christopher Pickren, who joined the Kessler Collection property after a stint as executive sous chef at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation. Although the restaurant borrows its name from a coastal region in northern Spain, its menu is heavy on tapas and Mediterranean-inspired, drawing a good number of its entrées from from the sea.
While elements of its predecessor’s Moroccan theme remain, like a few lighting fixtures and artwork, the overall feel of the space is considerably more inviting. Ornate wood chairs have been replaced with sleek, off-white leather seating and banquettes, and the yellow-gold walls and red ceiling are no more.
My initial visit to Costa Brava was with a large group and we were treated to an array of small plates to share, most notably the lamb lettuce wraps ($12), a kind of build-your-own appetizer of ground lamb, apple slaw and tzatziki sauce. The roasted snapper entrée ($32) was a sizable piece of fish, seared well, though a little drier overall than my companion’s seared sea scallops ($31), which were nicely balanced on a rich bed of creamy fennel-spiced polenta.
A second dinner visit afforded us the opportunity to get deeper into chef Pickren’s menu, starting with the yellowtail crudo ($16). The four expertly seasoned sashimi-style pieces topped with a small piece of citrus were an absolute delight and we lamented our haste until we were served our next shared plate, the Kessler calamari ($14), which proved to be an early highlight of the meal. The marriage of flavors from the cilantro Moroccan pesto, Kalamata olives and shavings of Asiago cheese, along with the lightly dusted and fried calamari is exquisite.
We continued the sharing into our main course, divvying up the rigatoni and peas entrée ($16) and lamb lollipop chops ($37). The rigatoni is an airy dish with goat cheese and a white wine sauce that stood in contrast to the lamb chops. The lollipops are paired in twos, dressed in a mint apple glaze and served with roasted root vegetables and Moroccan couscous, a meaty meal all the way through that we enthusiastically devoured.
One dessert was all we could accommodate, so we opted for the salted caramel pot de crème ($9). Smooth and tasty with a quirky presentation, it could easily be mistaken for a latte as it is served in a coffee cup with a hefty dollop of whipped cream.