Monthly Archives: December 2009

Review: Jacksonville Art Collective Christmas CD

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Jacksonville Arts CollectiveThe Christmas CD (NewO Records)

It’s a fact of life that you can never have enough Christmas music, and the first release by the Jacksonville Arts Collective makes a nice addition to any collection. The Christmas CD was recorded locally at Soul Block Studios, distributed through the Atlanta-based New-O Records, and funded by Executive Producer, and JAC member, Oscar Barnett. The album also features guitarist Eric Herrin (who also handled recording and engineering duties), keyboardist Steve Saracsen (aka Stevie Fingers) and drummer Will Blumberg. Together, they form the band Artisan; their new album, Another Planet, is due out in early 2010.

Barnett shares vocal duties with Patrick Evan and JAC founder Jessica Pounds, both veteran singers boasting some of the most characteristic voices around. The Christmas CD is just the first in a series of recordings planned for the benefit of the organization, which Pounds founded earlier this year. (I’m really hoping the next one is a collection of Irish drinking songs for St. Patrick’s Day.) The album contains jovial, pretty straight-ahead interpretations of seven seasonal favorites: “Let It Snow”; “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”; “Oh Christmas Tree”; “Silent Night”; “Joy To the World”; “We Three Kings”; “White Christmas”. 

The focus of the organization is best-decsribed on the CD’s inside label: “The Jacksonville Arts Collective exists to unite the local arts community behind the common goal of providing music and art education for underprivileged children.” To that end, monies received are pooled to provide funding for selected children to receive music lessons from private teachers, who happen to be some of the region’s leading professionals. This gives the kids the creative feedback and positive reinforcement that is so important for a developing young artist.

Governments on the local, state and federal levels have steadily cut into the funding for arts and music education, from band programs, instruments and art supplies to scholarships for promising talents. The great success of such programs when they are in effect has proven no impetus to reinvestment; in fact, they are often singled out as the first things to be cut even further when it comes time to balance education budgets, as has happened to disastrous effect in recent years. This has only enhanced the burden on the private sector, and the JAC is hoping to ease that pressure.

Its members include all the talents listed above, in addition to luminaries like artists Kim Barry, Megan Cosby, Nicole DiFeo, Lauren Gessner and Ryan Rummel, and musicians Shawn Lightfoot, Shaun Bennett, Chris Spohn, Christopher Byron Phillips, Joe Gaskin, Donovan King, Goliath Flores and Lackawanna Carriage Works, among others. The organization’s Facebook page (administered by JAC Director of Public Relations Dennis Freeman) has over 800 people.

The Christmas CD retails for $12 directly, or $10.80 online. The initial pressing of 100 copies was half-gone before the boxes were barely opened; 40 copies sold online, then another couple dozen at the release party that night. Recently opened at Post and King Streets, Walkers has hosted weekly Tuesday sessions by collective members and associates; they also work the Sinclair on other nights, like the Downtown ArtWalk and the Collective’s premier on November 6. Tuesdays are free, with a percentage of the take from beer, wine and tapas going back to JAC, which is working toward non-profit status in 2010, after which they hope to find a building (preferably within the city’s urban core) in which to house the foundation.

http://www.NewOrecords.com

http://www.jacksonvilleartscollective.com

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Restaurant Review: Primi Piatti

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Primi Piatti

2722 Park Street

(904)389-5545

Mario and Nancy Ferrari opened Primi Piatti after moving here from Washington, DC two years ago. It’s a relatively new place that doesn’t feel new. Nor does it feel like Florida; inside, it’s a lot more like Chicago. The place only holds 54 chairs, while being open for a total of just seven hours daily. As such, their goal is to provide a high-end experience. They are also open for private parties, with a minimum of 20 people at $35 each, with 20% tip, not counting alcohol. $840 is actually pretty reasonable, given a choice of two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts.

Primi Piatti takes a very basic, traditional approach—nothing fancy. They don’t do a whole lot, but what is done is done well. They carry seven import beers (six imports and Miller Lite) and 31 varieties of wine. Appetizer options include fried mozzarella or steamed mussels with homemade marinara, mozzarella caprese salad and Caesar salad. Appetizer options include fried mozzarella or steamed mussels with homemade marinara, mozzarella caprese salad and Caesar salad.

The bread was accompanied by the usual olive-oil-and-balsamic-vinegar dip, but augmented with tiny shavings of white truffle. Nice enough, but the bread went best with the she-crab soup, more bisque than broth, with meaty chunks of blue crab. $7 bought a bowl that was deep, wide and rich enough to fill stomachs; the bread made it perfect. That soup of the day deserves to be on the regular menu. The calamari was fine enough, moreso its crispy-fried tentacles than its overly chewy torso, but that batter would be fantastic fried on shrimp, or anything else. It should go without saying that a good bit of it wound up submerged in soup, temporarily.

The pasta selection is stacked with all one could wish for, and what they don’t have can probably be made. The “Primi Piatti” (“first course”) boasts a dozen items, including gnocchi with gorgonzola, while the “Secondi Piatti” (“second course”) offers a choice of chicken or veal cooked in six classic ways including Cacciatore, Francese, Marasala, Parmigiana or Picatta, served on angel hair. (The Primi looks intriguing, with artichokes and herbs in a black truffle and brandy cream sauce.) They also offer grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon, served with sautéed spinach.

My lobster ravioli was a mixed-bag. The minced-lobster filling was too fine to really appreciate the texture of the lobster, and it seemed a little bland. But then again, it was covered with a sundried tomato cream sauce that more than compensated. Good, but hardly the best ravioli I’ve had—that would be Maggiano’s mushroom ravioli with pesto alfredo sauce, which is about the same price but so good you may find yourself forcing strangers to try it, if you’re eating there alone. That said, I would try it again right now.

My colleague’s Linguine Gamberi Scampi was more successful, a very simple mix of garlic, lemon butter, white wine and herbs. The shrimp were fresh and plump; I would have cooked them just a little longer, but that’s a personal thing. They left the salting mostly up to the eater, who might want to carry their own high-end sea salt and pepper grinder into the place, because their shaker game needs some work.

One notable anomaly on the menu is a near-total absence of beef. The dinner menu is marked only by a formidable Beef Scaloppini ($25), while beef tortellini or sausage and peppers can be had at lunch. The lunch menu is vastly different, generally. The entrees (all priced cheaper by half) include old favorites like Fettucine Pesto, Veal Cannelloni, Cheese Manicotti, Eggplant and Chicken Parmigiana. There are also Panini sandwiches with eggplant and roasted peppers, or chicken with gorgonzola.

The total bill, with tax and tip, added up to $90 for two people, and we didn’t even sample the variety of hand-made desserts. A meal there could be had for less, for sure, but there is enough to warrant the expense. Three people could spend $200 easy, and not even notice it. That probably happens a lot, in fact, because it’s a pretty relaxing atmosphere where both time and money feel almost nonexistent—definitely a quality you want in a restaurant It’s debatable whether the price point is set a bit high for the market, but Primi Piatti is going strong after two years, so maybe it’s not.