Many eons ago, when I was a doe-eyed and much-tormented editorial assistant at the now-defunct Mademoiselle magazine, I read a piece that gave me hope. The New York Observer reported that one of my ilk at a rival mag had passed herself off as a publishing superstar and landed some prime real estate during lunchtime at the ultra-chic "44" restaurant at the Royalton Hotel: the coveted Banquette 9.
After the maitre d’ seated her, he discovered her lowly station and voiced real despair. What could this girl possibly look forward to in life, having attained the best seat in the house at the tender age of 22?
Seated at my lowly Mademoiselle cubicle, I raised my Diet Coke to toast the imposter. I didn’t think of her again until 15 years later, when I entered the brand new Trilogy of Naples, got a warm welcome from the managers and wait staff, was seated at a plush banquette and tasted world-class cuisine. Gazing out at the piano, glamorous couples at the bar and Fifth Avenue passersby lingering just outside the large, open French doors, I felt a tremendous sense of well-being. I said a silent prayer of thanks that I hadn’t peaked at 22. Trilogy is well worth the wait.
As piano player Ellen Grimes seduced us all with the song Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, my husband,Tom, and I took in the whimsical blue and white chandeliers and the creams, reds and browns that lend warmth to Trilogy, an entirely new entity born in the space that Zoe’s used to occupy. FGCU grad Rose Guglielmo introduced herself as our server and gave us a brief tour of an impressive, 24-page wine menu. We enjoyed the names on the specialty drinks page, including a "Hang in There Martini," an "Andies Mintini" and a "Let’s Get Stoned." Martinis range in price from $12-$14, with a $15 miniature assortment of "Tritinis."
Twenty featured wines ranging in price from $15-$35 (per glass) had been hand-selected by sommelier Jasmine Peterson, the wife of Trilogy’s executive chef Ross Peterson. Ross trained with chef/restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi in Hawaii. The prices throughout the wine menu range from $9 per glass to a $1,400 bottle of Australian Shiraz, the Chris Ringland Barossa Valley ’01 that Jasmine assured us is worth every penny. We took her word for it and settled on the Joseph Carr Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ’05 ($15 glass/$60 bottle) and the Argentinian Malbec Bodegas Colome Estate ’03 ($18/$72), both pleasing to our palates.
The real magic began when Rose brought us one of Trilogy’s Lite Bites (12 dishes priced from $9-$17): the revolutionary Maine lobster macaroni and cheese with thyme crust and truffle essence ($16). I feared that we might only taste a ghost of lobster and that the dish might be the sort of crunchy/congealed mess we occasionally encounter. I also worried that Trilogy had succumbed to a truffle oil madness sweeping the country and had gone a step too far. I should really worry less.
"This looks like a roasting pan for a hobbit!" Tom said as the steaming black iron mini-pot surfaced before us.
"Can you believe all of these chunks of lobster?" I replied.
"Don’t forget the amazing flavors of the cheese and the truffle oil," he said. "Holy cow, that’s good."
"I’m ready to write a rave on the basis of this single dish."
"I would brave all sorts of traffic on 41 and 75 to taste this again," Tom agreed.
Rose placed two more Lite Bites before us: the jumbo lump crab tortellini with Old Bay beurre blanc ($14) and the tenderloin and wild mushroom flatbread ($13). Both were very good, but we were too long gone on the mac and cheese to pay much attention. We were similarly delighted with our entrées, the blackened Florida grouper with island rice and asparagus cream ($30), and the oven-roasted, mixed peppercorn rack of lamb with toasted rosemary and Australian Shiraz jus ($35).
"You know what’s very tasty at this restaurant?" Tom asked. "The food. All of it. For instance, these are the best mashed potatoes ever."
"Why?" I watched Tom take a forkful and hold it up to the light before shoveling it into his mouth.
"Because they don’t taste like chives, butter, sour cream and the kitchen sink. Their essential potato-osity has been allowed to shine through."
"These folks have yet to hit a false note," I said. "And they’re all being so nice." Manager Daniel Demczak discreetly checked on our progress, Jasmine shared some wine wisdom with us, and managing owner Stephen Fleischer stopped by to welcome us. He lives two blocks away and makes daily appearances at Trilogy.
"I always wanted to have a place like Cheers," Fleischer told us. "People will get up in the middle of dinner here to make another reservation for the following Saturday!" The atmosphere he has created certainly made us want to cheer. Norm and Cliff never enjoyed anything half as grand.
Jasmine brought us a non-vintage dessert wine called Meeker Frozin ($12/$45) that could have been the dessert itself. We’re glad we had already ordered the apple beignet with cypress grove goat cheese ice cream, the chocolate brownie explosion with caramel sauce and peanut butter ice cream, and the Trilogy of crème brûlée ($10 each). It would have been a crime to miss any of these delicacies.
"Now that is crème brûlée," my brûlée-happy husband declared.
"I know! But who knew that goat cheese ice cream would taste so good, and work so well with an apple beignet?" I said. "Somebody in the kitchen is a genius."
"Come back often! We’re happy to have you," Fleischer told us as we reluctantly took our leave of Trilogy. We will most certainly be coming back as civilians, and we want the same lovely banquette. After 15 years of paying our dues in the working world, don’t you think we’ve earned it?
Trilogy, 720 Fifth Ave. S., Naples. (239) 261-1221. Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner nightly from 5–10 p.m. on weeknights and 5 p.m.–12:30 a.m. on weekends. Live piano music daily. Reservations suggested. Self parking available. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Cowboy Steak in Cape Coral
Advertising itself as "the Cape’s Most Tasteful Address" with "progressive cuisine with an Asian flair," the new Eight Fifty Lafayette does indeed dress up downtown Cape Coral with its beautiful outdoor bar and large indoor tropical fish tank. Another venture by the owners of Chip’s Sanibel Steakhouse on Sanibel Island, Eight Fifty offers a whole page of Sanibel Steakhouse dishes for Cape residents who long for the cuisine but don’t feel like braving two bridges to get there. Bar patrons can also order from the tapas menu, with light, mostly Asian bites ranging from $5-$12.
General manager Patrick Quinlan made us feel very much at home, and then we had a pleasant surprise: Our server, Guy Denegre, had recently defected from the French Roast Café, where he had expertly flambéed us crepes tableside a few months earlier.
"Do you make crepes here?" I asked him.
"No, madame," he said. "We have different desserts here."
"That’s too bad," Tom said. "That was dinner and a show."
"Why did you leave the French Roast?" I asked.
"Traffic," Guy said. "I live on the Cape, so this is much better."
We opened with the jumbo lump crab cakes with orange sweet cream and sweet Thai chile drizzle ($12), the prime beef satays, tender filet tips in soy mirin marinade with stir-fried soba noodles, mango salsa and blueberry pomegranate coulis ($8), both unusual and refreshing.
"These are excellent," I said over the crab cakes. "That is a real crab cake!"
"My wife is from Maryland," Tom explained to Guy. "She’s almost never happy with local crab cakes, but she loves yours."
Two glasses of wine, the Bordeaux Chateau de Bel ($9 glass/$36 bottle) and The BurgundyAlphonse Dolly ($8/$31), enhanced our dishes. We graduated to the cedar-planked halibut with lobster fingerling potato hash and blueberry pomegranate coulis ($23) and the seafood Portofino with Gulf shrimp, scallops, fresh seafood and Asian-style vegetables tossed with soba noodles in a garlic yuzu butter sauce ($23), equally innovative and pleasing dishes. But our greatest pleasure was still in store: the cowboy steak ($42), a 22-oz., bone-in ribeye imported from the Sanibel Steakhouse.
"You know, when a man pays $42 for a steak, it had better taste like this one," Tom said, his eyes rolling back as he savored each bite.
"I love it when you talk ‘cowboy,’" I said.
"That’s right kind of you, little filly!"
As we ate, we watched the restaurant fill with couples young and old. We finished our meal with a tasty tempura cheesecake ($6). Eight Fifty didn’t always hit the right note with us—we weren’t crazy about the bisque and another dessert—but on balance, it was a very satisfying meal. We’re sure that they will work out the minor kinks and become a Cape Coral oasis.
We rode off into the sunset, our bellies full and our spirits high.
Eight Fifty Lafayette, 850 Lafayette St., Cape Coral. (239) 541-4898. Outdoor martini bar open daily from 3 p.m. Indoor dining nightly from 4:30 p.m. Live music. Reservations suggested. Self parking available. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.