September 30, 2014

Hot Dish: March 25, 2009

Inside the Gulfshore’s dining scene.

AZN Spells Asian Delight at Naples’ Mercato
 
AZN Azian Cuizine opened last week at Mercato in Naples. My dining experience was flawless, delivered in an asymmetrically beautiful setting, with broad windows open wide to welcome Naples’ mid-70s breeze. AZN complements Mercato’s other culinary offerings— McCormick & Schmick’s, Capital Grille and Whole Foods—with its fresh, high quality food at reasonable prices. Three circulating managers, an abundance of servers and a trio of sushi chefs provide attentive service.


AZN's interior

The seafood, beef and duck are tender and beautifully plated. I enjoyed the Ahi Poke Hawaiian ($9), a classic mix of cubes of fresh raw tuna, avocado and pineapple in ponzu sauce, topped with tobiko caviar. Fresh and delicious! The Chilean Sea Bass ($26), marinated in sake and miso, is grilled crisp on the surface and tender inside, served with mixed vegetables and brown rice. There are sumptuous sushi dishes artistically plated, Korean-style short ribs and a Filet Mignon Trio ($32), with respective toppings of Thai basil butter, peppercorn sauce and a wasabi bleu cheese. 


Ahi Poke Hawaiian at AZN

For dessert, the caramel apple ($8.50) gets my vote; it’s enough for three people. A huge Fuji apple is dipped in warm caramel and hot chocolate, then rolled in chopped nuts, cooled, cut and served tableside. The apple’s crispness is enhanced by the thin rim of gooey caramel delight. It’s a great way to top off an AZN evening. 


Sushi at AZN

Our server, Diana, was warm, funny and made us feel like part of her family in no time. AZN’s bar is already quite popular, so far attracting a younger crowd to Mercato. Valet service will soon be available. And when the upstairs movie theater is built, this will be THE “dinner and a movie” destination! AZN Azian Cuizine, 9118 Strada Place, Naples, 593-8818.
 
 
Dine Out for Less than the Cost of Groceries
 
Mr. Five is the delightful new Naples diner where deputies, lawyers, construction workers and I go for the best value in town. Whether it’s a filling plate of breakfast pancakes, an Italian meatball sub or a gourmet fish supper, all main items are just $5 at Mr. Five. The successful creation of 23-year-old chef/owner Anthony Chinaglia, it’s a magnet for couples on a date, families on budgets and a Port Royal couple rolling up in their Bentley. 


Mr. Five owner Anthony Chinaglia

My party of four had the huge peanut butter and jelly pancakes, with crunchy peanuts in the buttermilk dough for a starter, then the kids’ favorite: black and white chocolate pancakes. My favorite is the crispy beer-batter fried fish sandwich and fries, featuring basa, the fish often substituted for grouper. Served crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, it’s also the most popular item at Mr. Five.


Beer-battered fish at Mr. Five

The Philly steak sandwich is the real thing, with ample soft onions and a generous soft yellow cheese topping. There’s also spicy ranch and bacon chicken on a hoagie, Kobe beef sliders, chicken jalapeno quesadillas, pasta dishes and daily specials—all at the magical $5 price. Dessert? Try four cannoli poppers for $3, with tender ricotta cheese in crisp shells.
 

Cannoli poppers at Mr. Five

Some, for $10, eat lunch in the diner, and take home a big dinner. My party of four could not finish our $25 worth of food, and that says a lot! Anthony created the concept after asking, “What price would bring me into a place for lunch?” And the answer was “Not $8 to $14, but $5 will, if it’s good!” It’s very good, and that’s why there’s a lunchtime line outside the restaurant! Open Monday to Saturday, breakfast and lunch, with dinner to soon start on Thursdays. Mr. Five, 1716 Airport Road S., Naples 262-1555
 
Authentic Mexican Food in Bonita Springs
 
Taqueria San Julian has taken over the small space formerly occupied by Monarca’s at the corner of Old 41 and Bonita Beach Road in Bonita Springs. Joining locations in Fort Myers on U.S. 41 near Page Field and Naples on Bayshore Drive, this authentic Mexican delight serves an assortment of tacos for $1.50, as well as soups, quesadillas and daily specials. There’s always cilantro, lime and onions to complement traditional tacos of tripe, tongue and steak. Taqueria San Julian, 28001 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs, 498-2222.
 
Let’s broaden our dining choices together. Post your hints and experiences of great Southwest Florida restaurants below, as a comment, or e-mail diningscene@live.com