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Dining Review: Revisiting Côte D’Azur

Thanks to a new California chef, a beloved French bistro is better than ever.



Veal tenderloin with porcini, morel and trumpet royale mushrooms

Vanessa Rogers

 

When I learned that Côte D’Azur, the North Naples French restaurant that has long been a staple of our fine dining scene, was changing owners, I joined in the collective gasp that went up across Southwest Florida. Under new chef/owner James Waller, who moved here from Monterey, would its menu of French classics change? Would its superior service alter? Would its charm wane? There was only one way to find out: I immediately made reservations.

On the night of my dinner, my dining companions and I were relieved to see that the atmosphere inside was unchanged. Accordion music played on the sound system, and the waiters in their bow ties and leather aprons looked as if they’d stepped out of a Renoir. Our booth was situated under a yellow cloth awning patterned with olives and sprigs of lavender, the kind of fabric you find in the outdoor markets of southern France. We glanced over our menus, and I was relieved once again—the dishes, too, had not changed.

The wild scallops

My companions and I began with the foie gras ($26), the escargots ($12) and the beet salad ($9). To say that the foie gras was exquisite would be an understatement. Pan-seared and served over toasted brioche, it arrived with a tart cranberry chutney whose acidity provided exactly the right balance. The escargots, prepared in a sauce of garlic, shallots, basil, parsley and butter, were easily some of the most superb I’ve tasted, and the salad with its combination of red and gold beets, strawberries, figs, fresh baby greens and shaved dry ricotta was bright and complex.

Our main courses included the wild scallops ($36), the grass-fed lamb chops ($44) and the veal tenderloin ($39). My companion with the scallops reluctantly handed over a bite, and if I didn’t have a plate of veal in front of me I might have stolen the dish from under his nose. Served with pumpkin puree, a roasted eggplant and red pepper caponata, and a red cabbage confit, the scallops were cooked to a perfect firmness. The lamb chops with their hints of rosemary and garlic, served atop a red pepper polenta cake, were the kind of delicious you want to pick up and enjoy with your hands. And that veal in front of me? Served with porcini and trumpet royale mushrooms, nearly fork-tender, accented by morel and truffle au jus, it was the kind of dish that made Côte D’Azur famous around town.

Roasted marinated artichoke hearts atop olive tapenade

When it came time for dessert, we passed over the more traditional profiteroles and crème brûlée and opted instead for the Basque-style flan cake ($10). A wedge of layered crème pâtissière and vanilla cake, the dessert was subtle, lightly sweet and just the right finishing note.

That breath we’ve all been holding, waiting for a verdict on Côte D’Azur’s new ownership? We can let it out. My impression is that the restaurant will not only remain an important part of the Naples dining landscape but also has the potential to be even more outstanding.

Côte D’Azur  

11224 Tamiami Trail N., Naples, 597-8867, cotedazurrestaurant.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5-10 p.m. Closed Mondays. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations recommended.

 

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