The atmosphere of a restaurant is essential to the experience. Some are elegant and refined, a chance to linger over wine and play the gourmet. Others are music-filled and packed with people, an invitation to carouse with the crowd. And some feel intimate, like a gathering of friends and family and familiar foods. Bistro 206 fits into this latter category. From the moment we walked through the doors, we felt like we had been visiting there our whole lives.
In actuality, Bistro 206 only opened in January of 2019. After having been frequent visitors to St. Augustine to see family, David and Janet Cassirer moved to Florida from New Jersey. Dave is a retired New Jersey police officer, and Janet spent more than 20 years in the hotel industry. Though they had owned several businesses before they moved, the impetus behind Bistro 206 was personal; Dave was going to offer up his family’s culinary heritage – traditional, decadent Italian dishes. So they hired on Chef Jorge Rodriguez, who worked for a decade under Master Chef Franco at Goodfella’s in New Jersey.
Kicking off what would become a flood of incredible food, Chef Jorge first offered us a classic caprese salad. Vibrant and undeniably fresh, the simplicity of the caprese is what sells it. Cubes of fresh mozzarella, juicy sliced tomatoes, crisp sprigs of basil are all topped with just a drizzle of balsamic reduction to add a tangy taste. We also received another salad offering – grilled chicken (which you can also get blackened) on a bed of greens topped with avocado, corn, and red onions. It’s light and bright but incredibly satisfying.
Salad course completed, we moved onto appetizers (which could easily be meals, should you feel so inclined). Visually striking, the Shrimp Ceviche is served in a large glass with peppers, onions, jalapeño, cilantro, orange, and the obligatory fresh lime. All in one you’ll get citrus and heat, herbaceous and savory. The Sea Scallops had to be a personal favorite. The restaurant uses dry scallops that have a sweeter and fresher taste than wet scallops, and the difference is obvious. Despite being wrapped in bacon and glazed in a balsamic reduction, the flavor of the scallops is the real star of the dish.
The table was already overflowing with the chef’s offerings, but – in true Italian fashion – it didn’t stop there. Both the Linguine and Clams and the Zuppa di Pesce could easily feed a small country. Okay, maybe not, but you’ll at least get a couple of meals out of one dish. The Linguine and Clams is a traditional preparation with chopped and whole clams in garlic and olive oil. It’s simple but full of classic flavor. The Zuppa di Pesce features nearly every seafood you could think of – a lobster tail, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams – all served over linguine in a tomato-based fra diavolo. Each dish served is packed with the kind of flavor that could only be passed down over generations.
The food is the foundation of a restaurant, but the people are what keep you coming back. Bistro 206 has a sure (and delicious) foundation, but Dave, Janet, Chef Jorge, and the whole staff take the restaurant from great to outstanding. As we sat and enjoyed the food, they told stories of family back home, anecdotes about Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, jokes about the industry. With every bite and every tale, we felt more and more at home. And we aren’t the only ones. “People that try our restaurant usually come again and again,” says Dave. “We have many loyal customers who have also become our friends.”