July 23, 2014

Dining Review: L'Orient in Naples

Find your way to L’Orient and you’ll savor the mammoth scallops, monumental sundae, gorgeous view and more.

Naples is a fickle restaurant town. Good restaurants go under, while stunningly mediocre ones thrive. Most of the issue is location. And if anything is going to do in L’Orient, the fantastic new Asian fusion restaurant that took over for Olio at Naples Bay Resort, that’s going to be it. The setting is gorgeous, and it technically has a Fifth Avenue South address (and with it a similar rent structure), but without the heavy foot traffic.

You should definitely find your way there.

We kicked off our evening with drinks. A glass of Belle Glos pinot noir ($12), that held up very well to the slightly spicy food to come and one of L’Orient’s Chinese zodiac-inspired cocktails for my wife. Fitting her birth year, she selected the Dog drink ($12), a delightful blend of rum, pomegranate juice, mint and lime. Think of it as an Asian-influenced mojito. (Perhaps not fully understanding the political persuasion of Southwest Florida, L’Orient’s menu noted Bill Clinton as a celebrity born in a dog year. You can make of that what you will.)

The majority of L’Orient’s menu toggles between upscale versions of classic Chinese and Thai dishes. This is definitely not a white-carton delivery Chinese place. The sieu mai appetizer ($8.90), tender steamed wontons filled with warm pork and shrimp, made us wish for L’Orient to try its hand at a dim sum brunch during season.

Seemingly out of character, but similarly outstanding, was the braised short rib flatbread with caramelized onions and Manchego cheese ($12.90). I’m not sure how the dish, along with a truffle-scented mushroom and artichoke flatbread, fits in with the whole. But after a few bites, I decided it was a tasty aberration.

Settling in to our entrées, we were tempted by a lot of items on the menu. The salmon miso truffle ($27), fi ve-spice Muscovy duck ($32) and curry chicken meatloaf ($22) all received more than casual considerations. But finally we decided on General Tao’s chicken ($17) with a side of forbidden rice ($4) and a citrus- glazed scallop special ($39) with a side of Peking rice ($12).

First, the special. It lived up to the billing, thanks to mammoth scallops seared and then glazed with something that truly could be called a fusion (a sticky sweet Chinese glaze blended nicely with the heat from some Thai chiles). And don’t let its side status fool you, the Peking rice is a meal unto itself. With hunks of roasted duck and perfectly cooked jasmine rice, it was certainly the most deluxe and delicious fried rice I’ve ever tasted (including the next day when I ate the considerable leftovers for lunch).

The General’s chicken was the only off note of the whole meal. The sauce was right, and the steamed veggie mix was wonderful. But the chicken itself, pounded a bit too thin and fried a little too long, left me wishing for the succulent scallops of the other entrée. It was saved by the unctuous, slightly sweet forbidden rice, with its gorgeous purple-black coloring and nutty flavoring.

That wonderful rice showed up again in our dessert—a truly colossal ice-cream sundae that featured two kinds of rice (forbidden and jasmine), at least three kinds of ice cream and sorbet (vanilla, green tea and raspberry) along with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and two sliced caramelized bananas. While this monumental dessert ($26) isn’t on the menu, if you’ve got a party big enough to put a dent in it (at least four, and honestly six would probably be satisfied by it), ask your server and it will be happily prepared.

Despite a stellar menu and a beautiful setting, the L’Orient was dead on a recent Wednesday night. It would be easy to chalk it up to pre-season doldrums or just a less-than-busy night of the week if the previous tenant, Olio, hadn’t already gone belly up.

It will be too bad if L’Orient meets the same fate. It’s just the sort of interesting restaurant downtown Naples needs as a buff er to the endless supply of two-for-$30 deals and French and Italian dominance. Here’s hoping it not only makes it through, but thrives. It’s definitely worth a trip to savor the beautiful views of Naples Bay and the wonderful cuisine.

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