August 21, 2014

Appetite

Have you ever seen a tele- vision that measured six-feet high by 12-feet across? If so, have you ever been served a gourmet dinner while major league baseball emanated from such a screen just a few feet from your table? For many of our male readers—and quite a few of our female ones, too—I just described a fantasy of gargantuan proportions. If you are nodding vigorously, it’s clear that Bacchus in the Bell Tower Shops was custom-built for you.

Tom and I happened upon Bacchus on an unusual night: Owner Shannon Yates’ 37th birthday celebration. He drifted over in shorts and T-shirt, holding a wine glass that resembled a hurricane lamp. Apparently, gargantuan is a theme at Bacchus.

“It’s a little wilder than usual here tonight,” he told us apologetically. “These are all my friends.”

“Happy birthday!” I said. “I love your wine glass. How much does it hold?”

“Four bottles. Here, have some of this on me,” he said, leaving us with an excellent bottle of Stags Leap cabernet sauvignon. Before Yates drifted off to meet more guests, Tom asked him about the television.

“It’s actually acrylic glass paint trimmed with leather, with an HD projector,” he explained.

“Wow,” we said, rendered inarticulate by the sight.

Our server, Lindsay Brown, recognized us. She served us the night we were reviewing, back when Bacchus was Toro. A chef himself, Yates owned Bacchus back in 2000, then left to help create the popular Crü while Toro briefly occupied the Bacchus site. Now, it’s Bacchus again, affiliated with Mad Takeout. Yates collaborated on Bacchus’ menu with Chef de Cuisine Heath Higginbotham.

“I came with the building,” Lindsay explained, setting down a basket of bread with both olive oil and herbed butter with shallots, garlic, salt, pepper and tarragon.

As the Boston Red Sox valiantly fought some other team, I suspected that I had lost Tom to the entertainment. Lindsay brought us each an amuse bouche of tuna tartare, prosciutto and shaved parmesan from Higginbotham. It was delicious enough to return my husband to me for approximately 18 seconds.

“I think this screen is actually a mixed blessing,” I said. Someone must have heard me, because the ballgame vanished abruptly. In its place, we saw the opening credits for a Lenny Kravitz concert video. It seemed more in keeping with the festive birthday atmosphere. Even though we were there on a special night, we could tell that the warm, friendly vibe we were experiencing wasn’t an annual occurrence, but rather the norm.

“What? Wait, no—” Tom said, with a stricken look.

“It’s OK,” I said. “This way, you can look into my eyes and whisper sweet nothings to me in the candlelight. Isn’t that better than watching the Red Sox?”

Tom swallowed hard and mustered the words, “Of course.”

The Bacchus dinner menu has a sense of humor, and it’s chic and simple to boot. Lindsay co-signed all of our “First Taste” choices: the salmon ceviche marinated in lime juice and finished with cilantro, almonds and sweet chilis ($7.50); the “Mussels, Clams, or Both,” served in a vine-ripened tomato marinara with roasted garlic rouille and grilled crustini ($10); and the grilled romaine with pesto, mozzarella, fried chorizo and roasted shallots ($10). We quickly saw that someone in the kitchen is a big fan of shallots and sausage, especially sausage. We found chorizo embedded in our side dishes of macaroni and cheese and sautéed spinach with artichokes and parmesan ($8 each). Even the truffle fries ($8) seemed to have driven past a chorizo on their way to our table. They were delicious.

Our appetizers came before our stomachs could even think of growling. Higginbotham knows what he’s doing. We were especially dazzled with the mussels and clams; naturally, we picked both.

Tom rhapsodized over his main event, the filet mignon ($25). “I can cut this filet with my fork,” he said. “It’s soooo tender.”

I ordered the shrimp, lobster and sausage fettuccini with tomato and spinach ($21). As a Northerner, I was disappointed to find that the lobster in question hailed from Florida as opposed to Maine, and I had begun to reach my sausage saturation point, but it was very good.

We left room for the banana upside-down cake ($10) and the coconut white chocolate custard with raspberries ($8), and we thanked our stars that we did. The crust of the banana cake was a revelation, and no sauce overwhelmed the delicate coconut flan. They were two small, simple, yet potent desserts—real standouts in an era of massive, overwhelming sweet fests.

Bacchus offers special Sunday dinners with half-priced wines to go with their theme: “Krafty Kuisine & Swanky Wine.” Normally, I abhor alliteration and all uses of “K” where a “C” ought to be, but at Bacchus, it works. The restaurant has a sense of humor about itself, but don’t be fooled. It’s quite serious about delivering very good food and service.           

Bacchus, The Bell Tower Shops, 13499 S. U.S. 41, Suite 111, Fort Myers; (239) 437-8676, http://bacchus.swankylifestyle.com. Lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with brunch items served on Saturday and Sunday), tapas menu from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.; dinner Sunday and Monday from 5 to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight. Video concert series on Sunday evenings. Valet parking Thursday through Saturday, free self parking daily. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

 

Embracing What’s New at M Waterfront GRILLE

As relative newcomers to the region, Tom and I never dined at Maxwell’s on the Bay, but always intended to make it down at some point. Thus, we were surprised to discover that Maxwell’s, a fixture on the Naples dining scene for 20 years, had been replaced by M Waterfront Grille. Sometimes change is good, but then again, sometimes the familiar is comforting.

We can’t speak for Maxwell’s, but we had a very enjoyable evening at M Waterfront Grille, with its chic, minimalist dining room overlooking the water on the north side of The Village on Venetian Bay. Server Melissa Suciu introduced us to the restaurant’s prominent organic theme by bringing us white and red versions of an organic wine, the Heller Estates ’06 chardonnay and the Heller ’05 cabernet sauvignon (each $14 per glass). As our eyes grazed the menu and our palates savored French bread served with olive tapenade, we saw that M’s young and talented new Executive Chef Brian A. Roland is preparing high-quality, fresh food served with ingenuity.

To start, we couldn’t resist ordering all of the following: the “Chef’s Garden” heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad with organic greens, fig and almond jam, unfiltered olive oil and aged balsamic reduction ($11); the heirloom beet tartar with fried goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette ($10); the “Not Your Traditional Escargot” with wild mushrooms, wilted spinach and a Boursin cream garlic-butter brushed French baguette ($12). I wanted a vat of the fig and almond jam to take home and enjoy every morning with an English muffin, and the fried goat cheese came in delectable nuggets. The escargot were incredibly light.

“I want some of this Boursin cream garlic-butter sauce on a plate of pasta,” I told Tom.

“Mmmm,” he agreed through a mouthful of mozzarella.

Carried away by the excellent vegetable array, we ordered the following sides: the roasted “Chef’s Garden Organic Vegetable Toy Box,” with brussel sprouts, cauliflower, onions, corn and tomatoes ($12), the crispy hand-cut parmesan fries with truffled ketchup ($7), and the Manchego smashed potatoes with roasted garlic ($7). I caught Tom dipping his fries into his mashed potatoes and raised an eyebrow at him.

“What?” he asked. “What could be better than potato on potato?” Clearly, I married a patriotic American man.

We were impressed by our two entrees. Actually, it would be more accurate to call them our four entrees since Tom ordered the Surf & Turf Trio with deep water Chilean sea bass, “Succulent Tiger Prawn” and Colorado buffalo steak ($49). I enhanced my Chervil pesto roasted sea bass ($31)—despite the fact that it came with grilled cornmeal flatbread, sautéed spinach and Jerusalem artichokes, and warm Serrano ham in a tomato vinaigrette—by adding caramelized diver scallops ($9). Tom’s tiger prawn was the big winner of the night. I could have eaten six and come back for more.

Before we left, we met M’s owners, brothers Peter and Christopher Sereno, and the general manager, and both the executive chef and the chef de cuisine, and were taken on a tour of M’s multiple dining locations and outdoor patios, all of which dazzled. We especially liked the bar area, where a simpler menu featuring such novelties as truffled popcorn ($5) and a lobster corndog ($21) were made available to the more casual diner. In the bar area, M offers live music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 to 11 p.m. We talked about the transition, which has gone smoothly for the most part.

We learned that M aspires to deliver European-style dining, which seems to mean a high level of service and quality all around. We certainly enjoyed our meal and look forward to returning soon.

M Waterfront Grille, 4300 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., Naples; (239) 263-4421, www.mwaterfrontgrille.com. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Dinner 5 to 10 p.m. daily; Live music 8 to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended. Free valet parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
 

For local restaurant news, read Gulfshore Life’s bimonthly blog “Hot Dish.”

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