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Ovinte restaurant review: The Original Pancake House never looked so good

The entrance to Ovinte
Photography by: George Singeltary

Ovinte

Rating:
Star4
Star
Star
Star
Star

As many of you may know, there used to be a restaurant called The Original Pancake House at St. Johns Town Center across the street from BlackFinn American Grille (go here for our BlackFinn review). Gary Mills from The Florida Times Union reported on the closing here, which happened around May 31, 2012. In place of The Original Pancake House is a new restaurant called Ovinte, which serve tapas and small entree plates to go with an impressive wine and cocktail list. We had the chance to visit Ovinte recently and we would like to tell our readers our thoughts on the restaurant:

Ambiance: 4/5

The first thing we noticed about the bar/restaurant is the greatly improved decor and ambiance in the building. There is no indication that this used to be a breakfast restaurant. In fact, Ovinte reminded us of the bar in Crazy, Stupid, Love (which was actually just a set at the Warner Bros. studio). The setup of the bar/restaurant is smart in that it seems to encourage a communal atmosphere where patrons can interact comfortably. The bar is just to the left as you enter and a large area of velvet couches on the right. Surrounding the couches are tables for those who want a more formal restaurant experience. Diners can also sit outside to enjoy the warm Jacksonville weather or go to "The Library", a semi-private room suitable for 8 guests, located next to the lounge. Combine the decor with the moody lighting and you have an ideal place to spend time with friends and meet new ones.

Food: 4/5

Before we discuss food, it is worthwhile to mention that we were only able to try two items on the menu, so it's definitely possible that other items are better than what we had. Unfortunately, the food that we had did not quite match the excellent ambiance at Ovinte. The menu at Ovinte focuses on tapas and small plates. We asked how much patrons typically order and the bartender said two, so we ordered the empanadas de chorizo and the shrimp spring rolls. The empanadas were spread out randomly on the plate and served with a yellow sauce on top that seemed somewhat congealed. Upon biting into one of the empanadas, we noticed an unusual taste that did not seem to pair well with the ground chorizo. Possibly the paprika oil or saffron aioli produced the taste, but regardless, it didn't taste great. The shrimp spring rolls on the other hand were beautifully plated and pretty good. The rolls were fried to a crispy light brown and filled with shrimp and veggies. The shrimp rolls were ok for a starter, but definitely not something that we would consider a "must-try." Overall, we would like to return to Ovinte to sample some of their other menu items, but from what we had, our expectations are somewhat low.

*Edit: As we previously mentioned in this section, we weren't sure if we just ordered the wrong thing at Ovinte on our first visit. So, we recently went back and this time...we ordered well! We started with the cheese plate, which was excellent. We especially enjoyed the crisp, buttered bread that was served with the plate and the 1 year aged Manchego from La Mancha, Spain. Next, we tried the Herb Truffle Fries ($5). Despite being on the Tapas section of the menu, the fries were served in a very large portion and were a great value for $5. Next, we tried the Pappardelle Bolognese ($10), which was excellent meat sauce featuring pork and veal. We also ordered the special of the day: The Moroccan spiced lamb skewers (not to be confused with the pork skewers). This was a small, but excellent dish. Lastly, we tried the house-made s'mores. These were not served hot, but they were still quite good. In sum, our second visit to Ovinte was much, much better than the first in terms of food and its score has been increased accordingly!

Drinks: 4/5

What Ovinte lacked in food was made up with the excellent Sailor's Sidecar with Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Cointreau Noir, lemon juice, and served with a sugared rim and orange rind. The drink was served in a martini glass and it was very cold with tiny ice pieces, which made it every better. This was an authentic and delicious drink that we would highly recommend to Jacksonville diners.

Service: 3/5

Upon entering Ovinte, we were promptly greeted and sat at the bar. The bartender quickly struck up a casual conversation and recommended the shrimp spring rolls, which were the better of the two items we tried. Drinks and food were served promptly for the most part. However, mid-way through the meal, some friends of the bartender entered the restaurant and it was difficult to get the bill. We eventually had to ask the other bartender for the bill.

Overall: 3/5

All in all, Ovinte is a nice place to relax and have a drink. It remains to be seen if other food items are better on the menu. Hopefully our readers can comment on other tapas and small plates they've had so we can get a better grasp of the relatively large menu. We would suggest giving Ovinte a try if you are in the St. Johns Town Center area.

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