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Yabo Delivers Delicious Cuisine and Melts a Music Lover's Heart

The Decemberists! The Eels! My Morning Jacket! This place is heaven." This was my husband, Tom’s, first utterance upon entering the tiny marvel that is Yabo Restaurant. Most normal people would hear those words and assume the poor man was having some sort of fit that would account for such a random conflagration of Russian history, Jacques Cousteau and My Fair Lady. Happily, this was not the case. No, Tom is a great lover of obscure music, and it turns out that Yabo serves up aural delights with every dish of gnocchi. In fact, if Yabo’s doors are open, you may be certain that some excellent live music is being played on its small stage.

Server Sean Wood took five strides from the front door and seated us in the far corner of the restaurant. Yabo contains a mere seven tables, plus a scattering of seats at the bar. Every dark wall is adorned with music memorabilia—photographs, concert posters, platinum albums. Yabo’s lone unisex restroom has flames painted on its walls, and a poster of The Clash. To me, its décor says, "Grad student’s late night out on the town, more alcohol and flirtation than was strictly necessary." I shared this observation with Tom, who looked hurt.

"It’s not just any Clash poster," he informed me. "It’s from the Combat Rock tour."

"Let’s calm down a bit, sweetheart," I said. "Remember: We’re here as scouts for the discerning readers of Gulfshore Life, and we haven’t even tasted the bread yet."

"Who cares? I’m ready to rave," said Tom. "They had me at hello."

While Tom took in the elaborate concert poster slide show that was being projected on a wall behind my head, I consulted the menu. Diners may choose from five salads and appetizers, four pasta dishes and six meat/fish dishes. The prices were so affordable, I was tempted to ask Sean to bring us one of everything.

After a few minutes, Sean brought us our wine and some warm, fresh bread with roasted garlic and olive oil. I took a swipe at the oil and garlic, a bite of the warm, drizzled focaccia and a sip of my Sonoma 2003 Hacienda cabernet sauvignon ($7 glass/$35 bottle) and relaxed. Sometimes, a loaf of bread can foreshadow a whole meal in such a way that even the most suspicious of reviewers has no choice but to give over to a lasting sense of satisfaction.

"Thank goodness," I murmured. "Somebody here cares a lot about food."

"Thank goodness is right," Tom agreed, savoring his own slice with a 2005 Argentinean Don Rodolfo malbec, the Cafayate Vallet ($8/$40). "You’re a good wife. It was going to be awful coming here every weekend without you."

When dish after dish of the excellent Italian fare began to appear on our table, we asked about the chef, Ryan Kida. He must have marinara sauce coursing through his veins.

"We’d like to start with the Asiago cheese-filled gnocchi," I told Sean.

"What kind of sauce would you like with that?" he asked.

"Surprise us!" Tom chimed in. Surprise us Sean did: The mouth-watering gnocchi ($12) came adorned with a perfectly spiced Bolognese sauce. I’m used to seeing green when it comes to gnocchi, and couldn’t believe anything could trump a good pesto until I sampled Yabo’s take on the subject. I could happily have supped on that meat-lover’s gnocchi all evening. Yet we felt compelled to try all of the following: the mozzarella and tomato caprese salad ($10); the calamari livornese ($12) in an exceptionally spicy red sauce; the traditional lasagna Bolognese ($16), a massive dish that deserves its boast—"the best!"—and could serve two; the eggplant Parmesan ($16), similarly delicious and gargantuan; the pork scallopini ($26), the most expensive/least favorite we tried, albeit perfectly respectable; and the linguini vongole ($20), which made me wonder why I forget all about linguini and clams in white sauce, when clearly, it’s conceived by the gods themselves.

We were not bowled over by the dessert we tried, a simple Key lime pie, but in all of the important ways, Yabo delivered with finesse. Set the GPS for Yabo immediately if authentic, delicious food in a simple, music-lover’s setting is your bag. And if I know my man, for whom good music and Italian food are as important as clean air and water, Clan Tolchin-DeMarchi will be regulars before this review goes to press.

Yabo, 16681 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers; (239) 225-9226, www.myspace.com/yaborestaurant. Dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Simplicity Rules at Nektar

pon learning that nektar Naples Restaurant serves food on a New American theme, the interior decorator that lives somewhere in my frontal lobe immediately conjured up some sort of overstuffed, brightly colored, tented southern European/Northern African décor. How wrong I was. With its clean lines and minimalist décor, Nektar brings to mind northern Europe—think of an ultra-chic, expense-account eatery in Norway or Iceland. A great deal of money has clearly been spent to give a quietly luxurious sheen to a simple dining room. A hostess led us to a banquette overlooking the entire space. Brightly colored pillows warmed up the beige and made us feel comfortable and at ease.

I had read that Nektar serves up cocktails with freshly squeezed juices, so I ordered a kiwi martini with Skyy vodka ($8.25), a tart and fresh delight. Tom went the more conservative route with the B. R. Cohn cabernet sauvignon ($12 glass).

Tom and I usually order enough food to keep a small army happily fed for a month. Yet the minimalism of our surroundings engendered a newfound simplicity in us. Could we take the measure of a restaurant and give a full report to the reading public on just two appetizers, two entrées and two desserts? At an award-winning place like Nektar, we felt confident that we could.

We began with Scott’s mushroom soup ($8) with leeks, cream and thyme, a delightful blend of flavors, and the northern Atlantic mussels ($10), pan-steamed with garlic and white wine. After a single taste of each one, we knew that we could judge Nektar to be a high-caliber Naples eatery on the basis of the appetizers alone. We could have left right at that moment. But I’m glad we stayed, because otherwise we would have missed the roasted whole red snapper ($27) with potatoes, spinach, lemon and olive oil. I wasn’t always a fish lover, but I would have been if I had tasted ones as fresh and succulent as the whole fish at Nektar. Chef Mark Pinto, formerly of Dragonfly Bistro and Bacco Restaurant, has a real gift for light dishes that leave you feeling delighted and content without being stuffed.

"Would you like us to remove the head and the tail of the fish before we serve it?" our charming young server Matthew asked us.

"Yes, please!" Tom said just as I was saying, "Oh, that won’t be necessary." We all shared a laugh.

"That would be fine," I conceded. "My sensitive spouse can’t bear it, so I’ll keep the carnivorous tendencies to myself."

"It really bothers some people," Matthew said. "That’s why we offer. It’s really no trouble."

As the restaurant got more crowded, that directive somehow got lost in translation. The snapper surfaced on our table intact. Matthew raced over murmuring apologies, offering to whisk it away and perform surgery on it for us.

"That’s all right," Tom sighed, locking eyes with the beast. "It isn’t that bad." I gave him a squeeze under the table for his bravery, and then watched him dive into his slow roasted duck breast ($24) with Low Country grits, sautéed chicory and pan-roasted apples. The juices poured out of the duck as he speared it with his fork.

"Mmm, try the apple," he said, bringing his fork to my lips.

"Amazing!" I said. "Just like dessert. Maybe we don’t even need dessert?"

It would have been a crime of sorts to miss out on the zabaglione and berries ($8), the liqueur-based cream bringing out the best in the strawberries. We were equally pleased with the fresh coconut sorbet ($8).

Despite the fact that we had managed to navigate entirely incognito, concealing our mission with much greater ease than usual with our streamlined order, we got a personal welcome and encouragement to return from general manager Adam Scholten—the son of local owner Tom Scholten—before we sailed off into the cool Neapolitan evening. We found the vibe to be elegant, warm and simple at Nektar, from the décor to the food to the staff—delivering an experience that should secure its future on the Naples culinary landscape.

Nektar Naples 849 Seventh Ave. S., Naples; (239) 435-1882, www.nektarnaples.net. Dinner Monday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to close. Reservations recommended. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

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