November 22, 2014

Appetite

Master of Flavors 

When i get hungry, it comes upon me like an unexpected zig in an otherwise zagging tropical weather system. I’m not proud of this, but if there’s no food in the vicinity, I become a danger to myself and others. Due to some poor time management, I arrived at Sea Salt in Naples in the throes of a bona fide hunger hurricane.

“Please don’t worry about giving us a leisurely dining experience,” I told our server, Brian Lasson, a tiny bead of sweat breaking over my brow.

“Just throw the food directly into my wife’s gaping maw,” Tom advised, “and nobody gets hurt.”

Sometimes, the Fates are unusually kind to us. This was just such a night. Brian immediately initiated a steady stream of top-notch cuisine. Within moments, we were sampling prosciutto from Parma ($9) and Gouda from the Netherlands ($10) from the Carpaccio, Crudo & Charcuterie menu, with sides of Spanish honey and fig jelly. Our schooling in the restaurant’s theme began with our first basket of homemade bread, which came with olive oil and a tiny sampler of colorful sea salts from India, Bali and Hawaii. In Brian’s skillful hands, we began to relax and marvel at the different flavors brought out by each salt.

The restaurant and gourmet market Sea Salt is the brand-new creation of Venetian chef-owner Fabrizio Aielli and his wife, Ingrid. Aielli’s training spans from Italy to the Caribbean and, for 15 years, my hometown of Washington, D.C. In Washington, the Aiellis created three restaurants, culminating with the award-winning Teatro Goldoni.

To establish their new vision on Third Street in Naples, the Aiellis enlisted the support of architect Griz Dwight to transform the space that used to house Mark, Fore and Strike into one that would be inviting to casual beachgoers and Neapolitan sophisticates alike. The restaurant feels open, fresh and nautical, from its open indoor/outdoor bar to its light Brazilian hardwood floors and ceiling and open-plan kitchen. It rings yachting bells without the pretension and keeps the focus where it belongs: on the food.

Sea Salt prides itself on local and organic produce, wild-caught seafood, fresh and seasonal ingredients, and poultry and meat raised naturally—wherever possible. The menu is generous yet simple to navigate. There wasn’t a single false note or dish that we wouldn’t have happily tried, from the seafood bisque with sweet potato and thyme gnocchi ($8) to the grilled free-range chicken breast payard topped with black and green olive tapenade, roasted bell pepper and fingerling potatoes ($17). For the oenophile, Sea Salt offers a 14-page international wine menu that is lush yet manageable.

While I busied myself with prosciutto and Gouda, Tom began with an appetizer of steamed red curry coconut black mussels with roasted tomato, lime green pepper and Thai basil aioli bruschetta ($14). I know that he loves me because he shared more than one bite of this uncommonly delicious dish.

“We’re in the hands of someone who really knows his flavors,” Tom said as he fed me.

Brian overheard and said, “Yes, that’s Fabrizio. He’s a genius. He’s sitting right over there, dining with his wife and some friends. They’re taking the night off.” As he was seated just a few feet from the open kitchen in his chef’s jacket, it’s clear that Fabrizio’s version of “a night off” differs substantially from ours.

For the main course, we ordered two specials: A Kobe porterhouse steak ($59) and a modestly priced trio of grilled Maine lobster tails ($38). We decided that sides of creamed spinach ($10) and truffled parmesan fries ($9) were in order. The lobster tails came with steamed tomatoes, asparagus and mushrooms, and led to lobster tales with Brian; we bonded over a shared experience of Cape Cod, Mass., where he chooses to live and boat during part of every year.

“If you don’t finish those fries,” Brian added, “they’re phenomenal for breakfast, especially if you fry a couple of eggs with them.” We followed his instructions to the letter the next day. Oh, what a joyous reprise.

Tom pronounced the Kobe beyond compare and fed me a choice morsel.

“My God, that sauce is incredible, so light and flavorful,” I murmured. “I hate it when folks take a beautiful steak like this and smother it in a heavy sauce.”

“Actually, I don’t believe it’s a sauce,” Tom replied. “I think the steak has been seasoned so well, it’s just the natural juices we’re tasting.”

When our furtive note-taking proved to be not nearly furtive enough, Aielli sent over a banquet of desserts that could only be described as obscene. Tom and I found ourselves looking at no fewer than six homemade sorbets and gelatos, six pastries and a flotilla of Norman Love chocolates. Other diners began to gape at us; we shrugged sheepishly in response. After everything that we had already consumed, it is a true testament to the power of these desserts that we sampled every single one, and even polished off the irresistible mango sorbet and pistachio gelato. Aielli came over to talk with us about our meal. We bonded briefly over Washington and Venice, and praised his new restaurant lavishly.

“Grazie, Senora!”

“The flavors of this sorbet are fascinating, with pairings like coconut/balsamic jelly, raspberry/candy orange/lava sea salt and mango/ginger/green tea,” I said.

“In Europe, you see much more of this in desserts, like tomato and pistachio cakes in Provence,” he said. “It’s really delicious.”        

“It totally works,” I agreed, “and we appreciate the spirit of innovation.”

“It’s so fresh and all natural, we can only keep it for three days,” Aielli told us. “Then, we send it home with the staff.”

“Lucky staff!” Tom said.

 The next time you feel a hunger hurricane brewing, put yourself in the expert hands of the caring, talented folks at Sea Salt. With seas fair or foul, we’ll be returning soon.

Sea Salt 1186 Third Street South, Naples; (239) 434-7258, www.seasaltnaples.com. Lunch daily from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily; bar selections from 2:30-5:30 p.m. daily; and dinner Mondays through Thursdays from 5:30-10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30-10:30 p.m., and Sundays from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

 

The Edison Lights Up Fort Myers’ Scene

The new Edison restaurant is the first place you should go if you happen to be single and beyond techno music in Southwest Florida. When we arrived and took in the glittering grandeur of the country club-esque building nestled on a verdant hill on McGregor Boulevard, I was flooded with nostalgia for my family’s private clubs in Washington, D.C. (At last count, my incorrigibly social parents belonged to four: one for golf, one for journalism, one for academic connections and one for its sheer beauty.) The Edison looks like the ideal spot to host a wedding. I wondered if it would be sedate in a clubby Washingtonian sort of way.
   As soon as we opened the doors, we saw hundreds of chic, happy people enjoying drinks around a massive bar with live music and sprawling out onto the veranda, with nary a tartan plaid in sight. It looked like a happening, upscale ski lodge, and this was on a Wednesday night.

Since Tom and I are neither single nor into the bar scene, we were happy to be given a very warm reception and then escorted to a quiet dining room with beautiful views of the Fort Myers Country Club golf course. We opened the menu to discover that the Edison has a real sense of whimsy but zero pretension. For instance, the drinks menu was called the “Catalogue of Parts,” and the dinner menu had categories like “Comfort Specialties,” “Meat and Potatoes,” “Old Fashioned Sandwiches” and “Side Cars,” along with low-key pizzas and salads.

They offer special events such as All You Can Eat Spaghetti & Meatballs Night. The prices top out at $24.95 for Ford’s Filet Mignon, with most entrées hovering in the vicinity of $12. (This proved we were a very long way from Washington, after all.)

Intrigued by the sound of “Pot Roast Nachos” ($8.95), we asked our server, Flavia Quintero, to bring us a plate along with some lobster bisque ($4.95 cup/$6.95 bowl). The bisque came almost immediately and appeased my hunger with its dense flavors, but Tom was less enamored of the Pot Roast Nachos.

“This tastes like Cheez Whiz,” he said. “I wish they had gone with real cheddar.”

“I don’t mind that,” I said. “I’m really enjoying the blend of pot roast, salsa and tortilla chips.”

We chose three entrées: the shrimp scampi ($16.95), the seafood Cobb salad ($12.95) and the 12-ounce, slow-roasted prime rib ($18.95). While the beef was very tender and came with a lovely au jus, I was most impressed with the seafood Cobb. Flavia split it for us in the kitchen, and yet both of us were still given dinner plates overflowing with lump crab meat, shrimp, avocado, tomato, cucumber, egg, red onion and bleu cheese.

We finished our meal with the walnut apple pie ($4.95) and the brownie sundae ($4.95), both of which were good, although Tom took issue with the chocolate sauce.

“I think this is Hershey’s syrup,” he said, wrinkling his nose.

“It doesn’t get more American than Hershey,” I said. “Just embrace the patriot within.”

The Edison is a festive, beautiful new restaurant with friendly service and a simple, satisfying menu. If you want to liven up your Wednesday nights, you should try it soon. 

The Edison Restaurant & Bar  
3583 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers; (239) 936-9348, www.edisonfl.com. Open daily 11 a.m. until closing. Live entertainment from 7 p.m. to midnight on Wednesdays and the weekend. Sunday jazz brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended. Valet and free parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

 

For more local restaurant news, read Gulfshore Life’s bimonthly blog “Hot Dish.”