10 Summer Dining Treats
1. Sea Salt
In Collier County, Sea Salt, voted Gulfshore Life’s Best Overall Restaurant for 2010, is a magnet for great cuisine and people watching in Naples. Some prefer a perch on the patio along Third Street South near acoustic guitarist El Gato Solea. My favorite spot is indoors, especially at the "catbird seat" tables overlooking the open kitchen. Chef Fabrizio Aielli’s 15 beautiful summer plates, crafted from organic and locally grown foods, are light-dining gems, priced right at $7 to $10.
My favorites are the broiled king salmon with spicy honey and pickled ginger on a bourbon-soaked cedar plank, the tamarind-glazed Wagyu beef ribs, polenta-crusted grouper and the Korobuta pork with udon plum sauce and green apple salad. The three-course, $25 dining menu Sunday through Thursday adds watermelon gazpacho with mango sorbet, rigatoni in a Kobe beef ragu, Irish organic salmon and mahi mahi roasted with lobster barbecue sauce. Top it off with a $7 martini or glass of vino.
2. The Turtle Club
With its beachside patio setting, The Turtle Club in Naples is the place to wow snowbirds and locals with tropical dinners and cool cocktails at sunset. Valet park the car, stroll to the beach and dine barefoot in the sand. The Turtle Club offers uncommon, fresh, sustainable, local seafood. Sample special entrées such as sheepshead, pompano, tripletail and other exceptional fish. I recommend "The Sea Harvest," a serving of Gulf fish, shrimp, scallops and a petite crab cake, or the pan-fried local yellowtail snapper or oak-grilled Florida mahi mahi.
For a sweeter touch, it’s the shrimp and crab Napoleon layered with mango salsa. For $10 more, add a main course upgrade with small plates such as Oysters Turtlefeller’s baby spinach and apple-smoked bacon, or more traditional butter-poached lobster or petite lump crab cakes. Arrive before sunset with friends and a camera, and take away beautiful memories and sunset photos of the beach and Gulf.
3. Bamboo Café
The cozy, family-owned Bamboo Café in Naples features French home-style cooking. It’s the perfect spot to catch a refreshing summer breeze from Naples Bay while enjoying dinner or drinks on the covered terrace. For a cooler retreat from the summer heat, enjoy the French bistro fare in the Parisian-inspired interior dining room. Sample small plates in the bar salon or have a relaxing evening meal in the dining room. Two-for-one happy hour is offered nightly from 5–7 p.m. in the bar salon and on the terrace. Try French apéritifs, such as Kir Royale, anise-flavored Ricard or citrusy Lillet on the rocks.
I come especially for the unique Moroccan-spiced tagines. Summer favorites include Basque gazpacho, moules frites, grouper Provençal and roast duck with orange sauce. Finish off your meal with a classic crème brûlée, flourless chocolate cake or the famous Napoleon with vanilla-infused fresh berries. Bamboo Café offers unique summer dining events such as "The Dog Days of Summer" monthly canine companion dinners and the Sunset Sailing Cruise Dinner with the Sweet Liberty catamaran. Afterward, stroll to the Naples City Dock to view the sunset.
4. Olio on Naples Bay
Why leave town for vacation when you can be transported to Venice, Italy, for an evening? Olio on Naples Bay at the Naples Bay Resort is a beautiful, waterfront retreat. Its outdoor dining area is surrounded by large, colorful buildings that catch the afternoon sun. The dappled light is reflected by sleek yachts and family-sized craft bobbing just feet from your table. With marina views on all sides of the restaurant, there’s not a bad seat in the house.
Olio’s three-course, prix fixe menu for $29 per person comes with a complimentary bottle of house wine per couple. Summertime appetizers are the spicy shrimp and calamari scampi, crispy polenta fries with exotic mushroom demi glace topped with fresh, shaved Parmesan cheese and drizzled with truffle oil, and the red and yellow beet salad topped with arugula, goat cheese and hazelnuts. Five entrées are offered nightly, such as bold jumbo shrimp cavatelli puttanesca or braised short ribs over roasted vegetable ravioli. Enjoy happy hour’s half-priced bar menu with stuffed quail, surf and turf, and diver scallops, to name a few favorites. Take a seat by the pool and watch the sun fade, casting summer’s soft pastels over Naples Bay.
5. The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
Summer dining is a classy delight at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. Inside the elegant lobby, sample BITES’ sassy, small-plate offerings such as prosciutto and melon, oyster shooters, fried green tomatoes, crab cake hushpuppies, scallop ceviche and my favorite, short-rib sliders—all priced from $4 to $14. Try BITES’ signature mojito with fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice, Charbay white rum and muddled mint.
Prefer an expansive waterfront view? Change into resort-casual attire and stroll down the long wooden walkway through mangroves to The Ritz’s beachside Gumbo Limbo. Nestled over the sand, its tables offer a great view of the Gulf waters and sailboats. Summer fare, such as chilled lobster gazpacho, lobster quesadilla with papaya relish, Caribbean conch chowder, crispy popcorn shrimp "Po Boy" or Key West spiced chicken wrap make for a memorable lunch. Dinner on the beach kicks it up with churrasco-style beef tenderloin medallions, Bahamian fisherman’s gumbo and, my favorite, the grilled snapper fillet with grilled pineapple-pepper relish and crab-corn spoon bread. Finish with the signature Key lime pie with tropical chutney and raspberry sauce.
6. M Waterfront Grille
M Waterfront Grille is a sleek, cutting-edge culinary destination overlooking Venetian Bay. Arrive early for that choice window seat. The restaurant is known for unique entrées, such as herb-panko-crusted walleye, pike with roasted fennel and caramelized onion risotto, and orange-miso glazed seabass with goat cheese dumplings and apple-smoked bacon with a Florida orange broth. This summer’s "twilight dining menu" offers three courses for $20. Select a soup or salad, choose from a frequently changing selection of five to six entrées, and have Key lime pie or raspberry sorbet for dessert.
M Waterfront Grille also offers "wine down Wednesdays," with discounts on wines by the glass or bottle and appetizers starting at $5, accompanied by live smooth jazz from 5–8 p.m. Afterward, stroll through the shops at The Village on Venetian Bay, taking the "secret passage" under the bridge from one side to the other. Keep the camera handy—I often see dolphins swimming by.
7. Hyatt Regency Coconut point Resort & Spa
Summer dining choices abound in Lee County as well. The sunset’s colors illuminate the lobby fountains, waterfall and large patio of the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero, all flanked by acres of lush palms, mangroves and dense tropical greenery. The resort features several restaurants, each with unique summer offerings. Start the evening with a refreshing margarita carafe on the patio of Mangroves while being cooled by Gulf breezes as you overlook the tropical foliage along Estero Bay. It’s also nice in the bar’s cooler climate.
I can’t get enough of the two signature offerings at the Hyatt’s upscale Tarpon Bay: crispy whole snapper with ponzu sauce and the ceviche bar. Peruvian-inspired offerings include snapper with tomato and jalapeño, lobster with citrus and cilantro, salmon with sweet chili and almond, shrimp and roasted corn, and conch kicked up with habañero and bell pepper. Relax with the smooth jazz of Jean and Chris Sidwell on Friday and Saturday nights.
8. Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa
The Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa is in a dreamy world of its own, overlooking San Carlos Bay. Dine inside or on the veranda at Charley’s Cabana Bar. The Coastal Flatbread’s shrimp, crab, lobster and basil pesto with melted goat and ricotta cheeses hits the spot. For a bolder taste, the Speck Flatbread’s smoked ham and crumbled gorgonzola is sassy. The raspberry mojito and Sanibel Seaside Cosmo are cool, colorful drinks to enjoy while live music soothes the soul. The resort’s Tarpon House has a cool setting that is perfect for the fresh tempura-fried grouper sandwich with a spicy tartar sauce. Complete your dining tour with a crème brûlée trio at the Courtside Steakhouse. Then stroll around the resort’s tropical acres.
9. Flippers on the Bay
For a great, ultra-casual, family-friendly lunch or dinner spot, Lovers Key Resort’s tiny Flippers on the Bay is a movie-set fantasy come true. Take the car, or pull your boat up on the flat sandy beach. Pelicans dive for food just a conch shell’s toss from your seats on the wooden deck. There are no windows to shut out no-see-ums, so it’s best to go when there’s a cooling breeze. I start with the ample portion of deep-fried calamari, and my guests flip over the bountiful cold-water mussels Neapolitan. When available, the bronzed grouper is the house specialty, sweetened with bananas and seasonal fruits. You can’t go wrong ordering bourbon-marinated pork shanks; the tender meat falls off the bone.
10. Thistle Lodge
Casa Ybel Resort’s Thistle Lodge restaurant, built in the late 1800s on Sanibel Island, is often booked during high season for weddings. Walk through the spacious Victorian structure’s rounded rooms, gaze through the broad windows upon the shell-lined beach and Gulf waters, and conjure up romantic thoughts of Old Florida. With majestic sunsets, tropical birds and exotic fruits in the lush foliage, this is indeed "Paradise Found." In keeping with its tropical setting, start with Thistle Lodge’s ahi tuna tatake with sesame sticky rice cake, wakame salad and sweet chili soy. The Mikado salad, with sliced avocado, mango, papaya, marinated portabella, mixed greens and citrus vinaigrette, is invigorating. The tropical fruit explosion’s fresh berries and raspberry sorbet is uniquely served in a coconut shell. Nearby guests may be celebrating a birthday or anniversary. Perhaps a couple near your candlelit table becomes engaged during your visit. The Thistle Lodge just radiates that kind of magic.