Writer’s note: I’m a self-described foodie. I will try ANYTHING once and I have no dietary restrictions. What makes me qualified to write about food? I love FOOD and grew up on a farm eating fresh produce grown in gardens tended by my parents and grandparents and dining on meats (pork, chicken, rabbit, beef, lamb) that were raised by my dad and other family members. I’m also a seafood-lover, and have dined on fresh-from-Florida seafood all my life!
By Renee Unsworth
Michael’s on Cuna Street has been on my Top 10 restaurant list in St. Augustine since it opened in 2006! With the addition of The Chef’s Table, an exclusive dining experience created by chef and owner Michael Lugo, the popular dining spot is now one of my all-time favorites.
What makes it so great? The food is FRESH and prepared PERFECTLY! And since Lugo selects and creates each of the five courses based on your preferences, you and your guests are free to sit back and relax. There’s no fuss … no deciding if you’ll have the shrimp or the steak.
The Chef’s Table allows you to try new dishes that are truly created just for YOU! Each course is served by Lugo, who explains the food preparation and each ingredient on the plate. Lugo is a laid-back, easy going chef. He’s not at all pretentious. He’s serving food that he serves to his own family and friends!
Another favorite part of The Chef’s Table? Wine is paired with each course. What a wonderful experience to try new wines! (Michael’s Tasting Room has an extensive wine menu, receiving an Award of Excellence each year since 2007 by Wine Spectator.)
When making reservations for The Chef’s table, Lugo asks about dietary restrictions , then decides on the dishes he will prepare only a few days ahead of time. He sources as many locally grown menu items, and then adds contrasting flavors and textures with items from organic farms in Florida and Georgia.
“We focus on meticulously sourced ingredients and a continuous search for growth both in quality, knowledge, and hospitality,” Lugo said.
My friend Michelle Santorelli recently dined with me and enjoyed the five-course meal.
The menu on March 3
- 1st Course — Salmon Tartare, avocado, pickled mustard seeds, garden herbs, and baguette crisp
- 2nd Course — Organic tender lettuces, shaved fennel, crisp apples, and Sweet Grass Dairy soft-ripened cheese
- 3rd Course — Sauteed saffron gnocchi, English peas, crispy wild boar salami, and Manchego crema
- 4th Course — Roasted rabbit saddle, heirloom carrots, fava beans, and wild mushrooms
- 5th Course — Brioche French toast, blueberries, chocolate ganache, and creme fraiche caramel
Each course was SCRUMPTIOUS and truly indulgent! My favorite was the handmade saffron gnocchi (pictured below). I could have licked my plate clean! The Manchego crema was DIVINE!
The Tasting Room opened in 2006 in downtown St. Augustine, offering contemporary tapas-style dining, small meals that were meant to be shared. At the time, Lugo was a managing partner. In May 2014, he became owner and executive chef, and changed the name to Michael’s in 2019.
Also in 2012, well-known TV personality and chef Emeril Lagasse spent two hours with Lugo at the St. Augustine restaurant filming part of at TV show that featured the best local restaurants in Florida.
The restaurant also has earned the title of Best Wine List, Tapas, and Best Upscale Restaurant in the St. Augustine Record’s Best Of St. Augustine competition.
“We had a Golden Spoon award in the past, plus have been a top 50 restaurant in Jacksonville Magazine each year,” Lugo said.
“We love the recognition, but we try to keep it simple and focus on good food and service in a casually elegant setting.”
Lugo started out many years ago as a wine steward at Chamberlain’s Steak and Chop House in Dallas. He worked with Chef Richard Chamberlain for seven years where he learned the intricacies and nuances of fine dining.
“We look to achieve friendships with our patrons that last a lifetime. We are very community focused, and are involved in many charities. We believe in giving back to build a better city and a better place for our kids to grow up in.”
The menu at Michael’s includes tapas (appetizers), chefs selection of cured meats and cheeses, soups and salads, steak and seafood, and Spanish dishes such as paella.
Reservations are usually not needed for dining Tuesday-Thursday, but are encouraged for Friday-Sunday and for The Chef’s Table. For reservations, call 904-810-2400.
For locals: There is usually plenty of parking near the restaurant Tuesday-Thursday in downtown St. Augustine. I dined at The Chef’s Table on a Wednesday evening and found a spot next to the restaurant at 5:45 p.m.
- 25 Cuna Street
- St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Monday: CLOSED
- Tuesday-Thursday: noon to 9 p.m.
- Fridays: noon to 10:3o p.m.
- Saturday: 5 to 10:30 p.m.
- Sunday: 5 to 9 p.m.