November 26, 2014

This Old House

Dining in the graciously appointed main room at the Morgan House is like having Sunday dinner in a rich relative's parlor in the early 1900s. Something about the ambience makes you want to sit up a little straighter and keep your elbows off the table. Not that the room is forbidding; it's pleasantly proper and quite vintage with its white lace curtains, cool minty-green walls, leafy carpet, polished brass sconces and formal chandelier. There's even a dried flower wreath on the wall, and the ceiling is tin.

The intimate space seats about 60. And it's also rooted in history, making the Morgan House that much more fun to experience. The restaurant was once a private residence; in 1923, John Morgan Dean, of Rhode Island, added on to his already old Fort Myers residence by wrapping the Morgan Hotel around it. Today this nostalgic landmark is a treasured icon of both the old town of Fort Myers and the burgeoning new city on the river.

Written in script, the menu at Morgan House ignores fusion foods and haute continental fare. It's a straightforward American fine-dining bill of fare. But the kitchen recognizes its geographic relationship to the Gulf, so part of it is devoted to the seafood locals and tourists expect to encounter.

The menu isn't extensive, but it is well focused. Meats include pork chops, several cuts of steak, and chicken cordon bleu or Florentine. The seafood portion encompasses shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, crab cakes, grouper, coconut shrimp, shrimp scampi, baked stuffed shrimp and a combination platter. Aside from a couple of nightly specials, the house signature dish is the downtown tortellini, which you can have plain (vegetarians will appreciate) or with chicken, shrimp or a combination of both for $16. The sauce is velvety and spiked with enough spice to make this comfort food jazzy but not fiery. The average entrée is $16, and portions are large. A lot of guests leave this place with containers. Each entrée comes with a vegetable medley and a choice of potato or rice.

A brief wine list offers wines by the glass or bottle. The Trading Post, the adjoining bar, resembles an old-time frontier saloon. And because it's right outside the dining room, bar conversation and live music do drift in.

The substantial desserts include bread pudding, a Caloosahatchee mud pie (very rich), the ubiquitous key lime pie and ice cream. A children's menu offers four kid-friendly items at $3.99. Any parent could guess what they are: hamburger, chicken fingers, grilled cheese and the ever-popular PB&J.

Service is pleasant and expert, performed by uniformed servers who genuinely want you to feel right at home in Mr. Morgan's old house. We did indeed.

Morgan House 2207 First St., Fort Myers. (239) 337-3377. Lunch: Tuesday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. Dinner: Tuesday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. Credit cards. Reservations accepted. Street parking. Wheelchair accessible.

When you think of a restaurant that prides itself on a lovely water view, you naturally think of a seafood menu. But you can also get a mammoth slab of porterhouse steak at Cloyde's, which offers fine dining on Venetian Bay in a chi-chi shopping venue so expansive it takes up two sides of the street.

Of course, at Cloyde's you can also indulge your taste for fruits of the sea, especially up-market favorites such as Maine lobster, crab-stuffed baked shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and stone crab claws in season.

Enjoy each shellfish alone or in concert with other seafood arranged in tempting platters, or combine the seafood with the beef specialties. If you're willing to pay, you can have your meal anyway you want it, as Cloyde's offers you the option to top your regular meat selection with a healthy dollop of seafood for $12 to $20, depending on what you choose.

Owner/operator Eric Pate (who's at his 15-year-old restaurant every day) keeps the quality high, insisting on certified prime beef that's been dry aged. The Maine lobsters are flown in daily, and all the seafood is fresh and looks totally tempting. Signature steaks include New York strip ($26), prime rib, porterhouse (26-ounce) or a center-cut filet paired with a nine-ounce lobster tail. A native 24-ounce lobster tail is $70. Veal ($36) and lamb chops are offered, too. For fish and shellfish, expect current favorites such as ahi tuna (with a sweet chili glaze), coconut-crusted mahi-mahi, sea bass and yellowtail snapper. You'll also find swordfish, grilled with lemon butter. The red Alaskan king crab legs,$65, are beautifully rendered and presented.

Sides include potatoes prepared various ways (including the indulgent baked stuffed) as well as rice and mashed cauliflower, a low-carb concession that's tasty and increasingly popular with Cloyde's guests. With the steaks, you can order béarnaise sauce, bleu cheese crumbles and deep-fried onion rings. Arriving tableside stacked tower-high on a metal rod, the enormous rings look and smell so good gliding by your table you'll probably order them even if you didn't intend to.

Cloyde's is spacious, its dining room tables oriented toward floor-to-ceiling arched windows overlooking Venetian Bay. The restful room has dark ceilings, carpet to absorb sound, tables draped with pale gold cloths, and black napkins so you won't get lint on your clothes. The room is somewhat formal with tall stanchions of opulent dried flower bouquets to help carve out smaller, more intimate-seeming sections without blocking the water view.

Sedate and comfortable, Cloyde's primarily attracts the kind of diners who define a martini as gin and dry vermouth, not chocolate and some flavored vodka-folks who see a grasshopper or brandy Alexander ($9) on the Cloyde's dessert drink menu and actually know what it is.

Many of the wines at Cloyde's are available by the glass. The staff likes to decant the older wines and "splash" the younger reds, which means a server pours your bottle into a glass pitcher to give it some air. The wine list is about 80 percent American with a few French, Italian and Australian bottles to satisfy more adventurous palates. But given the amount and range of fine seafood offered, the absence of New Zealand sauvignon blancs is surprising. And the cellar could certainly benefit from more French reds.

Desserts are mostly house-made, plentiful and hearty, keying on items such as bread pudding, cheesecake, key lime pie and a mousse cake. The house specialty is a snowball, a ball of vanilla ice cream rolled in coconut and puddled in chocolate sauce. Though nicely done, the desserts are unexceptional. It might be more fun to experiment with a fancy dessert coffee or slowly sip a brandy.

The service at Cloyde's is, happily, what you'd expect from a fine dining restaurant. Experienced men and women in uniform are attentive without hovering, anticipating needs before guests have to express them.

And about that name? Cloyde is the owner's father.

Cloyde's Steak & Lobster House at the Village on Venetian Bay, 4050 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., Naples. (239) 261-0622. Dinner: nightly, 5-11 p.m. (early-bird, 5-6 p.m.). Credit cards. Reservations recommended. Valet or self-parking. Wheelchair accessible.

CHEF CENTRAL

Chef Pierre Harmelle's chocolate cake.

After 30 years working in prestigious international kitchens, Pierre Harmelle, a 46-year-old native of Burgundy, France, has settled in Naples, where he specializes in private cooking, catering and creative boxed lunches. Harmelle moved to Naples in 2002 to lead the kitchen at Bleu Provence before establishing his own operation. This chocolate cake is a favorite in his repertoire-it's simple to prepare but tastes like it was a lot of trouble to make. For something extra fancy, make a mango coulis and puddle the cake in it just before serving.

Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

8 ounces dark chocolate

8 ounces heavy cream

1 ounce butter

2 whole eggs

4 ounces sugar

3 ounces corn starch

8 raspberries

1 ounce butter for coating the ramekin

Bring cream and butter to a boil. Add chocolate and blend mixture in food processor for two to three minutes. Add the sugar, egg and cornstarch, and blend three minutes. Coat a ramekin with butter; pour the chocolate mixture into the ramekin, putting two raspberries in the middle. Refrigerate until ready to use. Bake cake for seven minutes in an oven preheated to 425 degrees. To serve, remove cake from ramekin and decorate with raspberries and fresh mint leaves. If serving a dessert wine, try Muscat Beaume de Venice.

Chef Pierre (239) 261-1678.

Ask Marsha

Q. I'm always searching for restaurants that serve organic foods. Can you recommend one?

A. Pizza & Coconut Café has a wood-burning oven for making authentic pizzas, and the chefs there use 100-percent organic whole wheat flour, spring water, extra virgin olive and sea salt. In a wood-burning oven, the pizza cooks faster, has a slightly smoky flavor and is nicely crisp on top and bottom. The kitchen prepares about eight varieties, including a New England white clam, BBQ chicken ($18 for the large) and the classic margherita (tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil). The kitchen also serves up organic quiche, sandwiches, tempting salads (love that mango-lime-cilantro slaw, $9), and desserts such as coconut creme pie and chocolate mousse.

All sweets are made with Sucanat sugar and whole-wheat pastry flour. Drinks include beer and wine, champagne and spritzers made with 100-percent fruit juice.

Pizza & Coconut Café 536 Tamiami Trail N., Naples. (239) 262-8181.