September 16, 2014

From the Editor

We’re hoping to spoil you to excess in pleasures of the palate this month. Just line up the restaurant dishes and wines recommended by the area’s top chefs (p. 71) … and dream of plunging in. Pick up on the latest fads in foods and wines from our Naples Winter Wine Festival celebrities Emeril Lagasse and Grace Evenstad (p. 82). Even try to resist the Kobe porterhouse steak and mango sorbet at Sea Salt after reading the raves (p. 160) from our dining critics. For the adventurous, you might even want to sample kava, the drink for men only described in our travel story (p. 148). It’s a ceremonial mix made from chewed-up fibers of a peppery root plant with generous amounts of saliva and muddy water—and drunk from coconut shells. Gulp.

With all this in mind, I visited recently with resident foodie Lisa Boët, co-proprietor along with husband Philippe of Bamboo Café. Here since 1994, Lisa had spent the previous nine years in Paris, where, she says, “life revolves around food and wine.” She has watched the local dining scene evolve, and I wanted to hear her take on the newest trends, her favorite restaurants and chefs, where we’ll be in five years and how we can spice up our dining pleasure. As you’ll note, she’s second to none in her pride in, and ambitions for, the region’s locally owned and operated restaurants (and, in fact, is the founder and president of Naples Originals, a band of 39 restaurants promoting the cause of the independents).

Current Trends—“People want comfort foods, the simple pleasures now. Nouvelle cuisine with exotic ingredients is out. Diners want stews, soups, osso bucco, beef bourguignon—the slow-cooked foods. They’re less adventurous and more in tune with how food is made and where it is from.”

Five Years From Now—“I see the growing importance of eating locally grown foods. Do we need strawberries from California and grapes from Chile? No. How about our Plant City strawberries? How about our pink Gulf shrimp, our stone crab claws, our tripletail and our hogfish?

“As the population gets younger here, I think we’ll have a new generation of diners excited about eating out and wanting fresh experiences. The independent restaurants will read this trend better than the chains and will prosper accordingly.”

Favorite Restaurants—“Bha! Bha!: for the stews, fresh herbs, unusual spices. Noodle Saigon: I love the Asian/French combination. My Vietnamese friends order for me. Bistro 821: great roasted chicken. Cosmos: What pizza!”

Favorite Chef—“Tony Ridgway. He’s the Culinary Father of Naples. He’s a classicist.”

Spicing Up the Scene—“Get a group of local places to put together a menu of opportunities for the foodies who want to learn new things—maybe it’s the pursuit of locally produced products in season. Partner farmers with fishermen and see what that blend will produce for diners. Organize a week-long culinary festival to highlight the uniqueness of the area. There could be special dinners and cooking classes.”

So, Lisa, do you have any rules for diners that will make us all happier in the end? “Yes,” she says. “Try the restaurant’s take on a given food and don’t ask for a change in the recipe. Give them a chance to show their stuff. And lighten up. All may not be perfect, but just relax and enjoy the company. If you’re disappointed in the dish you ordered, give the place a second chance. There may be many other pleasures there to savor.”

Bon appétit, good friends. You know what to do from here.

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