Need to Wow the Boss? Impress Your Date?
Choosing the perfect restaurant depends as much on the situation as the cuisine. You wouldn’t invite your budget-conscious pal to a night at The Ritz. And you wouldn’t try to secure your promotion by bringing your boss to the neighborhood taqueria. Both have great food, but they don’t work for every situation.
So we’ve come up with a list of our favorite places for the right occasion. All offer top-notch dining, but each brings something else to the table.
If you are looking for the right restaurant for you in Collier or Lee, check out our suggestions below.
If you … need to impress the boss
Escargot 41 is where knowledgeable insiders go for warm hospitality and superb French cuisine. Neapolitans often bring cosmopolitan visitors and you’ll occasionally spot a nationally recognized VIP or two despite the fact that Escargot rarely advertises. Savor sizzling parsley-garlic butter escargot Bourguignonne, a pastry-topped, Brie-bathed escargot with Normandy-style sweet apples and carrots or hickory smoked coffee-coated salmon for starters. For entrées, I favor the fruit de mer with morels, beef tenderloin with anchovy butter and duck confit with Puy lentils.
4339 Tamiami Trail N., Naples, 793-5000, escargot41.com
The Veranda features an antebellum setting in two turn-of-the-century brick and wood homes. Select your power spot—by a brick chimney, wooden staircase or the patio koi pond. Start with the crisply fried crab-stuffed artichoke fritters dipped in tarragon-accented béarnaise sauce. Go traditional with Southern grit cakes with pepper jack cheese, blue crab cake with remoulade sauce or fried green tomato salad with tidbits of ham. The boss will flip for the twin seared beef filets in a smoky sour-mash whisky sauce or the rack of New England lamb with rosemary merlot sauce.
2122 Second St., Fort Myers, 332-2065, verandarestaurant.com
If you … need to wow your in-laws
Sea Salt serves fine Mediterranean foods from a tree-shaded patio that’s perfect for people watching on Third Street South. Venice-born Chef Fabrizio Aielli imports Italy’s fine charcuterie with speck, Serrano and Parma hams, bresaola and soppressata. The crispy seafood assortment’s lightly fried calamari, shrimp, oysters and scallops is a delicate frutti di mare, accented by a squeeze of lemon. Star dishes include homemade ravioli filled with braised short ribs, white sea bass with wild mushrooms and black truffles and mustard-crusted lamb shank. Select your own wild-caught turbot, swordfish or branzino from the colorful iced display.
1186 Third St. S., Naples, 434-7258, seasaltnaples.com
Angelina’s Ristorante pairs innovative Italian cuisine with elegantly appointed dining areas and a gasp-inducing two-story glass and wood wine tower. Your mother-in-law will flip for the handmade ravioli al zucca, stuffed with a heavenly oven-roasted butternut squash and Mascarpone cheese mix, dressed with savory citrus-tomato butter and topped with truffled almonds. Whole snapper for two is baked encrusted in Mediterranean sea salt, then presented tableside, accompanied by sautéed baby vegetables. Select from the dessert tray’s dozen delights.
24041 S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs, 390-3187, angelinasofbonitasprings.com
If your … foodie friends are in town
Inca’s Kitchen is a foodie magnet with beautifully plated Peruvian cuisine at amazingly wallet-friendly prices. Start with a pisco sour, Intipalka Tannat or Malbec wines, then dive right in to one of the best ceviches you’ll ever taste. Lomo a la huancaina, a lightly spiced beef tenderloin with spiced cheese sauce, will win raves from even the most persnickety gourmand. Mussels and scallops a la chalaca is a vibrant salad-ceviche hybrid set on porcelain spoons. Tiradito is a Japanese-Peruvian sashimi-like fusion with lightly soy-marinated wahoo. Bouillabaisse-like chupe, or the sampler platter of grilled beef, seared diver scallops and succulent shrimp are enough for two. Save room for Incan apple cobbler, and sweet potato bunuelos.
11985 Collier Blvd. Suite 9, Naples, 352-3200, incaskitchen.com
La Trattoria Café Napoli is one of my top Lee County dining spots. Who else offers boldly flavored Spanish tapas, paellas and pastas on the same menu? Prices are a deal—tapas are nearly all under $8 and entrées under $22. Start with the prosciutto salad, Spanish mild chorizo, Manchego cheese, Manzanillo olives and roasted peppers. Crisp tostones topped with tomato and chorizo are a Latin riff on bruschetta. I can’t get enough of the oven-warmed goat cheese with roasted red peppers or the pancetta-wrapped dates with Cabrales cheese, caramelized onions and balsamic glaze. Paella Valenciana is laden with tender seafood, grilled chorizo and Arborio rice that bursts with flavor. Top desserts include vanilla panna cotta with roasted pear and cinnamon and two-tone chocolate and vanilla flan.
12377 Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers, 931-0050, latrattoriacafenapoli.com
If you’re … looking for the perfect spot for a first date
Having a first date at M Waterfront Grille, with its beautifully plated foods, autumnal stylish décor and romantic view over Venetian Bay, is a good way to guarantee a second date. Chef Brian Roland ignites the senses with panko-crusted wild-caught walleye, orange-miso glazed sea bass and seared duck breast with goat cheese gnocchi. Wow your date with a duet of stone crab claws and seared diver scallops, flame-grilled Florida red snapper, or almond brittle Scottish salmon. Finish with Mascarpone panna cotta or hazelnut pecan pie, then stroll along the water’s edge.
4300 Gulf Shore Blvd. Naples, 263-4421, mwaterfrontgrille.com
Romance is in the air at Wayne and Valeria Elam’s Brew Babies Garden Bistro, as you relax to light jazz groups playing in the open courtyard. Sit in a secluded nook or melt onto a cozy couch as you admire the rustic brick and wood décor’s antique accented walls. Salmon Rockefeller hits the spot with spinach, a splash of Pernod and tarragon hollandaise. Tap out the beat while sipping spoonfuls of gorgonzola mushroom bisque, as Valerie sings popular favorites. Spicy, sweet and sour cranberry Thai cod wakes up taste buds. The beat picks up as your calypso cheesecake and roasted pineapple and coconut-topped tiramisu arrive.
1520 Lafayette St., Cape Coral, 542-2224, mybrewbabies.com
If you’re … looking for the perfect place for a proposal
If you’ve got the ring, The Blue Heron has the sunset over the water view for a magical evening of fine dining. Start with champagne and beurre blanc-topped crab cakes with flame-grilled shrimp. I relish the roast rack of lamb’s rosemary accented jus, crispy half duck with apricot sauce and the sautéed veal tenderloin layered with prosciutto, Swiss cheese and sage. Pull out all the stops with the majestic lobster thermidor: a steamed two-pound Maine lobster sautéed with shallots, mushrooms and sherry lobster sauce and topped with Asiago cheese and Hollandaise sauce.
387 Capri Blvd., Isles of Capri, 394-6248, the-blue-heron.com
The Thistle Lodge at Casa Ybel Resort, has been the setting for countless marriage proposals and weddings for more than a century. It’s fitting since this spacious two- story home was a man’s wedding gift to his betrothed. You’ll be thrilled with a breathtaking view of palm trees and a shell-strewn sandy beach, and your beloved will be impressed by the lobster bisque prepared tableside. Try the tuna trio—black pepper crusted ahi tuna with wasabi aioli, coriander-crusted tuna with Thai pesto and a tuna tartar tower with sweet chili lime. Then savor the mojito gastrique-glazed, pan-seared Florida black grouper or twin char-grilled six-ounce Colorado lamb porterhouse chops with a spirited fig and cascabel pepper emulsion by candlelight.
2255 W. Gulf Drive, Sanibel Island, 472-3145, casaybelresort.com
If you … want a casual night out with friends
Bites, set in the grand lobby of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, offers small tapas-style plates of delicious light foods, gathered from around the globe in a setting like an elegantly intimate coffee house. Plates range from $4 to 13. Start with the beautiful ahi tuna carpaccio with cilantro and lime, or the spicier crisp calamari with cherry pepper relish. Must-haves are the lobster mac and cheese with shaved truffles, pan-seared wild-caught trout with foie gras almandine and the rich, smoked pork belly with apples, hazelnuts and aged balsamic. The constantly changing menu offers tastes not found elsewhere, such as veal cheek pizza with arugula and truffle and curried chicken meatballs with Thai peanut sauce.
280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, 514-6001
Chef Shannon Yates’ Lush is an oasis of boldly creative dishes and select wines, nestled under a broad banyan tree. There are plenty of different options for a relaxing evening—the bar, a wooden table in the dining room, the chef’s table or outdoors. Globally sourced ingredients are innovatively mixed and matched. The cheese plate may feature French Camembert, California blue, a heavenly ricotta with truffled sea salt or a Spanish goat cheese brûléed to smoky-crisp perfection. The tuna tartar cubes are accented by a curry and citrusy ponzu sauce duet. Swoon over the grilled Angus beef filet, topped with seared foie gras and a tower of crispy truffled fries.
13451 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, 791-8554, lushfortmyers.com