Cataluna Jax 

 

Words by Amiyah Golden 

 

I am a proud self-proclaimed foodie — through and through — but it’s getting harder to maintain that title with taste buds meant to linger in cities like New York City, Miami or Los Angeles but, instead, are constantly stifled by a chronic lack of  innovative menus, quality ingredients, immaculate service and unforgettable experiences. 

 

Now, I’m not saying Jacksonville doesn’t or can’t deliver on such requests as we’re making headway with some burgeoning businesses planting roots here with many local eateries opening up with eccentric menus, detailed decor and a pledge to honor an experience that hasn’t been seen before. I admire the effort, but frequent let downs have caused some consumer skepticism. 

 

A few months ago, the announcement of another new restaurant was beginning to circulate. 

I found myself uninterested initially due to the habitual anticipation and the follow up of routine displeasure from other establishments. As that buzzing grew louder I decided to take a look at what all the chatter was about at Cataluna. 

 

The promotional pictures immediately grabbed my attention as I stared at chic wallpaper, beautiful chandeliers, velvet seats — all draped in my favorite color, green — under ambient moody lighting. It was a stunning capture of a place you would see in some major cities around the world, and my initial dismay was becoming intrigued. 

 

The decor was just an invitation — since aesthetics can only get you so far — I needed to see if what I would be ingesting was worth it before I really committed to (you know the commitment of getting dressed and driving there). 

 

Their website, which was thoughtfully crafted with beautiful photographs of their cocktails and food, further cemented my decision to partake … along with some captivating descriptors:

 

“New flavors with deep roots.”

 

“A celebration of Mediterranean gastronomy. Indulge in an array of small plates bursting with authentic ingredients and bold spices, paired perfectly with a selection of fine wines and handcrafted cocktails.” 

 

I made my way to Cataluna and was greeted by a doorman and hostess — both with warm smiles — and entered into an entirely new realm, a world of difference from what surrounded the outside. Dark lighting forced my eyes to adjust from the 6 p.m. sun, but it was needed to accompany the beautiful furnishing and color scheme (check out “Folio” on instagram to see for yourself) and the resplendent floor to ceiling bar. I was asked if I wanted to sit in the dining room or the lower mid-section, available to support a contrasting vibe (still a stunner nonetheless) reminiscent of a modern take on a 70s conversation pit with many patrons who sat here seemed to be catching up with followed laughter all while being granted a 360-degree view of the restaurant. 

 

I sat in the “dining room” area and was greeted by my server, Sebastian, and I have to note that the customer service the entire night was spot on —with waiters who weren’t even assigned to my table constantly checking on me. I let my server take the lead with my food selections since I hadn’t seen the menu prior to and I’m extremely indecisive (I’ll blame it on being a Sagittarius.)

 

Sebastian handed me a cocktail — the Musa (or “muse” in English) — while telling me the inspiration behind the drink: 

 

“Our mixologist wanted to create an experience of passion which is why he chose to include passionfruit.”

 

My first sip was met immediately with the taste of passion fruit, sour at first and then sweet. The alcohol partnered with the fruit being gin — smooth all the way down. 

 

For my appetizer, a plate of octopus was sat in front of me. I was a bit intimidated at first (since I’m a fried calamari girl at heart), but it didn’t take away from the presentation nor flavor. I was pleasantly surprised at my own fancy as I cut into the meat that held firm but was soft inside — as a texture person this was salient to my own enjoyment. It was cooked wonderfully and paired with a beet purée and a lemon that brightened up the flavor profile. It was a great start to a night of explorative subsistence.  

 

As I waited on my entree, I made conversation with two friends seated beside me. They both ordered the lobster pasta and raved about their own spread with one friend sharing that this was her second time coming back for that particular dish alone. It looked delicious and I’m always down for carbs and a good time, so I noted what to order next time. 

 

Our conversation was briefly stalled by the incoming of my entree, the sea bass. 

 

I wanted to shout “Tens! Tens! Tens across the board!” as I bit into the fish, but I reserved my reaction. 

 

The sea bass sat on a bed of arugula —and what I believe were shallots — tossed in a lemon sauce. The top of the bass was crispy with a plush inside. Buttery and flaky and I closed my eyes to relish in its glory. The sauce was a bit on the sweeter side, but it worked so well with every ingredient on my plate, not overpowering in the slightest. 

 

My belly was expanding and I was starting to get full, but I could tell the quality of consumption was there by my body’s own positive reaction. And while I could’ve finished right there when it comes to a sweet treat … I’m going to have it. There’s never a need for peer pressure to convince me to indulge in any type of dessert. 

 

Sebastian brought out my last course which was a caramel cake with vanilla ice cream and a black sesame seed placed on top.

 

The cake was dense and after a few dig-ins, my fork was met with a caramel center. It wasn’t overwhelming and the ice cream assisted in mellowing out the piquancy. What made this simple treat unorthodox was the inclusion of the black sesame seed; a piece of caramel rolled in black sesame seeds and placed right on top of the ice cream. It was antithetical from what I just consumed but uncannily worked well together. It was a savory contrast that was notable.

 

All in all, my entire experience from the food, to the ambience, to the service was stellar!

 

My trip was unfortunately on a Wednesday evening so I missed out on their fire performers and late night menu; as well as their weekend transformation after dark to a lively lounge spot until 2 a.m. 

 

I will definitely be making my way back to Cataluna (and ordering the lobster pasta) along with some cocktails from their extensive book (they literally have a book of specialty cocktails… I’m not even joking) and getting to dance the night away with some friends.   

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