October 20, 2014

Appetite

I knew that i was going to like Olio on Naples Bay—where the food makes you imagine the marriage of an Italian cucina with a Florida citrus grove—before I tasted a single dish. I knew the moment we stepped through the lobby of Naples Bay Resort, descended a broad stone staircase and glimpsed the resort’s pristine marina and yacht club. There, gleaming in the water before us, were two brand new Bertram yachts.

"Behold their beauty!" I said, clutching Tom’s arm. "Have you ever seen anything so lovely?"

"The water?" my landlubber husband asked, shielding his eyes from the glare. "The condos?"

"No, no, no. The boats. Can’t you imagine life aboard a Bertram 630?"

"Where would I put all of my CDs?" Tom asked.

"Throughout the four staterooms and two salons," I answered. "Duh."

Luckily, Tom and I are in total agreement about one thing: the importance of good food, especially good food with an Italian bent. You will find it at Olio on Naples Bay, a newcomer to the city’s dining front as of Feb. 28.

We were seated immediately at a small table with a full view of the marina.

"Do you mind if we both sit on the same side of the table and claim this extra space?" Tom asked. "I’d like a view of the water, too."

"I’m sure we can do that for you," our server, Michael Griffith, replied with a broad smile. In a world where the attitude "How may we not help you?" seems to have replaced "With pleasure," you will find the positive, customer-friendly attitude at Olio a relief. We relaxed and took in the light, fanciful décor, cream with touches of turquoise and orange and artistic hints of the sea.

"I just want to point out, they’re playing real jazz in here," Tom said. "And it’s awesome."

Olio’s menu is as minimalist yet satisfying as its décor. Tom and I chose two glasses of wine, a pinot noir labeled ’06 Estate Laetitia Arroyo Grande ($13) and an ’05 Ramsay Napa cabernet sauvignon ($14). We savored an assortment of big, soft focaccia spears with olive oil and spices while we waited for a host of appetizers, including two good, tangy, citrusy dishes from the sea: the limoncello-cured salmon with horseradish mascarpone and citrus vinaigrette ($11) and the shrimp and calamari lemon scampi with fingerling potatoes ($13). A trio of artichokes followed, after which manager J.R. Stalcup stopped by to ask us which we preferred—the roasted, fried or braised artichokes, all adorned with lemon and basil ($12). It was a tough call, but I had to go with roasted, and Tom agreed. As real pizza aficionados, we were less enamored of the undercooked stone-oven pizzette with fennel sausage, roasted sweet peppers, oregano and parmesan ($12.50). Yet all was forgiven when we tried the crispy polenta with field mushrooms and white truffle oil ($9). Here was an appetizer to shame many an entrée with the delicacy of its flavors.

For our entrée choices, we consulted with none other than Olio’s self-proclaimed "surrogate mother," Josh Moulton, kin to the Food Network’s Sara Moulton. He urged us to try the succulent, crispy, olive oil rotisserie chicken with grilled Florida citrus ($23) and the angry lobster, Chef Frank Whittaker’s inventive, spicy, pan-roasted take on a Maine lobster with chiles, garlic, basil and Florida orange butter ($38). Josh explained that his job is to set restaurants in motion, and that with Olio, he strove to create a hotel restaurant without the feel of hotel restaurant. Although it is managed by the same company, Benchmark Hospitality International, its physical distance across the marina from Naples Bay Resort gives it an independent feel. Whittaker’s innovative, citrus-friendly dishes make it a far cry from standard hotel fare.

We ended our meal with three desserts, Olio’s warm budino cake with vanilla bean custard sauce ($9), the chilled Florida lemon souffle with raspberries and caramel sauce ($9) and the chilled milk chocolate semifreddo with espresso crunch and fresh cream ($8). To pick a winner would be as hard as choosing a favorite child—or yacht, for that matter. It’s hard to imagine how Olio keeps up this level of quality, especially given that it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

May we recommend that you turn to starboard the next time you’re in the vicinity of Red Marker No. 40? Olio is the perfect place to restock your provisions, but only if you sail with style.

Olio 1490 Fifth Ave. S., Naples; (239) 530-5110, www.olioonthebay.com. Open daily, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dinner reservations strongly recommended. Free and valet parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Making New Friends at Crust

With its dark burgundy walls and pale yellow vaulted ceiling with skylights, Crust Bistro looks as if it were decorated by a devotee of Lord Byron, who penned the phrase "all that’s best of dark and bright." We visited Crust on a recent Sunday evening and were amused to find that everyone we encountered, from hostess Ellen Ciciotte to manager Laura Joy and server Jessica Schaub, used the same phrase when we asked about their roles: "Oh, I’m just here to help my friend." The friend in question is owner Mike Smith, the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who also owns Wylds Café. Mike seems to have gathered many friends during his be-toqued years, and he has created in Crust Bistro a good, casual restaurant with a neighborhood feel.

Crust offers a manageable yet appealing range of dishes. Its menu is divided into nine starters, seven salads, five flatbreads, 13 entrées and five sides. We considered our options while sipping the Franciscan cabernet sauvignon ($12 glass/$45 bottle) and the Tommasi Super Tuscan ($10/$40). We tucked into warm, soft sesame rolls with cold, fresh butter, and made friends almost immediately with Crust’s sweet potato bisque ($5).

"To be honest, I’ve never met a sweet potato I didn’t like," Tom confided as he savored the rich, well-seasoned soup.

"That works for me," I replied. "My dad used to call me Sweet Potato Dumpling, so I’ll be happy if you remain ever-faithful to the Sweet Potato."

Next, we sampled the sautéed mussels tossed in a sausage butter broth ($9). We had been led to expect the mussels to be unusually large, but they were actually on the small side, albeit quite tasty. You won’t regret the wild mushroom bruschetta with truffled mascarpone cheese ($7), or the "Oh My Cheese" flatbread with pecorino, Romano, mozzarella and roasted garlic ($9).

We had a false start with our entrées because the filet mignon tournados accompanied by bourbon-stewed onions, leeks, scallions and mashed potatoes ($24) arrived a bit too purple for comfort. When I must send something back, my usual tactic is to place the blame entirely on myself, which I did. I’m glad to report that the circle of staffer friends at Crust was all smiles and understanding, and my tournados soon reappeared. They were pale pink and quite good.

The grilled orange roughy with black truffle butter and garden chive mashed potatoes ($18) was light and delicious.

"How are you enjoying your burger and fries?" I asked. Digging Crust’s regular neighborhood joint vibe, Tom had insisted on ordering the 8-ounce grilled choice burger with crinkle-cut fries ($10.50).

"This is one tasty burger," he reported.

"You know what would probably go pretty well with that burger?" I asked.

"The TV show Happy Days?"

"Close, but I was thinking more about something edible. They offer a ‘big, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie [$8] served right out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup.’ How could that not be great?" I asked.

"We’d like to try that," Tom informed our server, "along with the peanut-butter-cup-crusted cheesecake" ($6).

We were right. The cookie dessert came with everything including not one, not two, but three bona fide maraschino cherries. We couldn’t remember the last time we’d gotten those tart, red delights on any dessert and shared them as gleefully as if we were in a poodle skirt and a varsity sweater at a ’50s diner. Crust knows how to make friends and ensure a happy day in the neighborhood.

Crust 4480 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs; (239) 495-9464, www.crustbistro.com. Open daily for lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. and happy hour 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Reservations accepted. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

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