October 24, 2014

Prime Cuts

It's bound to affect your cuisine comfort level when you stare at an official Wilson football signed by Coach Don Shula and realize the Shula Steak House menu is written on it. Are you at a sports bar or a real restaurant?

Both, kind of. There's a definite theme going on at Shula's Steak House; and it is, of course, the Miami Dolphin football team and its legendary leader, Don Shula. But despite the TV in the bar, this is no blue-collar shrine with burgers on the side. Shula's, which is on the lobby floor of the Hilton Hotel in Naples, is upscale, tony and expensive with food and service to match its swanky ambience. Imagine the Ritz Grill rather than Outback and you'll know the kind of lunch or dinner experience to expect.

Oh, there are pictures of Don Shula and the team on the walls, all right, but the photos are artistic black and white and encased in gold Old Master frames, each with its own gallery light. The décor is clubby and sophisticated, with dark paneled walls, comfortable banquettes and tables, an open kitchen and formally attired waitstaff.

Starched white linen cloths and napkins and snowy plateware with the black Shula signature on the rim help to further establish the classy, calm ambience. Don't let the football menu throw you, and don't throw it to your server. He or she has seen enough of that kind of behavior.

Shula's is a steak house, featuring Angus beef, wet-aged for 28 days. The cuts are linebacker-huge, including a 48-ounce porterhouse, priced at $65.95. If you order one of these monsters, you are automatically a member of the 48 Oz. Club and your name is enshrined on a plaque in the lobby and on the Web site. That plaque already lists about 300 names of men (I didn't see any female takers) who are probably now at home slugging some high-cholesterol drug. You don't have to finish the steak in the restaurant to be part of the club; you only have to order it.

I assume there are plenty of doggie bag customers, and I like the discreet way the take-home procedure is handled. The server removes the unfinished portion of the meal, boxes it in the kitchen and slips the Styrofoam container into a Shula logo plastic bag and sets it on the floor at your seat. When ready to leave, you just grab the handles of your bag and exit. Neatly done.

Here's another signature touch. Executive chef J.D. Mosello prides himself on cooking the steak just as you ordered it. When your server presents the steak, he or she whips out a little flashlight, aims it at the meat and asks you to please cut into the center to verify that the degree of doneness is just as you requested.

Besides the massive porterhouse of "Club" distinction, you can order a 24-ounce porterhouse ($33.95), a 32-ounce prime rib ($30.95), 16-ounce sirloin ($30.95) and so on. The smallest steak is a 12-ounce filet mignon ( $32.95). Non-beef entrées include Maine lobster, Norwegian salmon, Florida snapper, lamb chops and a chicken breast and nightly specials.

The steak comes with fresh whole mushrooms and garnish. All sides are a la carte. Choices include potato, salad (a mild Caesar or tomato/Gorgonzola) and seasonal fresh vegetable. Price range $6-$8 per side order. The portions are giant (the baked potato is nearly the size of the football menu), and your server will suggest that you share side dishes. This is good advice. You'll also be served a basket of hot, fresh, wonderfully sour sourdough bread and butter cut in slabs the size and thickness of a graham cracker.

Water glasses are thoughtfully replenished throughout the meal, and you'll be asked if you want slices of lemon or lime with your water. About eight appetizers are offered, including steak soup, shrimp cocktail or oysters on the half shell. Approximate price: $10.

Desserts are brought on a tray that holds two kinds of chocolate cake, berries and cream, key lime pie, cheesecake and assorted ice creams. Again, portions are generous so you can share. The chocolate soufflé for two is the house specialty; you need to give the kitchen 30 minutes notice. No espresso, but strong coffee and lots of pleasant after-dinner liquor sipping possibilities.

In keeping with Shula's theme, the wine list is presented in a Wilson pebble-grain leather cover. Because beef reigns at Shula's, the wine list is heavily weighted to the red side. But you can also find a nice chardonnay - in fact, about 15. However, if you're looking for a $25 cab, you're in the wrong place. More expensive wines are, however, amply represented.

Should a '97 Chateau Petrus suit your fancy, it is available for $1,450; while a 1986 Beringer Private Reserve Cab would set you back a mere $330. Our own selection was a '97 Markham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa at $59. If you're celebrating a significant event, Shula's has seven champagnes, including a '94 Roederer Cristal at $220 as well as six sparkling wines from California. Shula's also offers 21 wines by the glass and five wines in half bottles.

For lunch (sandwiches, pasta, salads, steak and hash browns) or for dinner, Shula's combines a comfortably elegant atmosphere with fine food and wine and excellent service. Your bill will reflect the upscale nature of a gourmand's good time, but weighing all the elements, Shula's is good value, whether or not you make it into the 48 Oz. Club and get your name on the wall somewhere near the coach's.

SHULA'S STEAK HOUSE

Hilton, 5111 N. Tamiami Trail, Naples. 430-4999. Lunch: Monday-Sunday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday 5:30-10:30 p.m. Sunday 5-10 p.m. Credit cards. Valet parking. Reservations suggested.

Tetley's Steak & Stone restaurant on Fort Myers Beach is a signal of the coming gentrification of an area that's traditionally been a blue collar Riviera-a budget beach destination for Canadians, Europeans and Midwesterners. Call the restaurant a culinary symbol of what will soon replace the dated motels, charmless stilt houses and RVs that hug the sand on one of the prettiest Gulf beaches anywhere.

As Naples and Bonita are built out, Estero Island, the more picturesque name of Fort Myers Beach, will inevitably evolve into a high-end Naples-like community full of tall, slim Mediterranean Revival beach houses, sleek condo towers and classy resorts with all the attending upscale day spas, chic boutiques and sophisticated wine bars.

But that hasn't happened yet, which means Tetley's Steak & Stone may be slightly ahead of its time. If it can hold on for a while, though, it will be well-positioned to serve tomorrow's tonier customers. .

The restaurant occupies the second floor in the Seafarer's Village Mall in Times Square and it, like the entire mall, is owned by German businessmen Joerg Weibe and Jurgen Weyus. Tetley's has the luxury of a spacious, covered dining deck as well as an inside dining room with one wall open to the deck and a handsome L-shaped bar.

If you eat on the deck (and most people do), you'd have a postcard view of the Gulf of Mexico across Estero Boulevard-except that a Howard Johnson Motel is smack in the way. Too bad. Instead, observe the swaying palms against the starry sky or watch the bustle down below as party people stream into the margarita bar downstairs (100 different varieties offered) and tourists troll by in cars or stroll along chatting and pushing baby carriages. Times Square is anything but sophisticated, but it is animated, drawing a diverse crowd that ensures there's something interesting to watch from Tetley's deck.

The deck is exceptionally comfortable. Set far apart, tables are dressed with white linen and blue cloth napkins. A candle lantern sits on each table and pendant lighting adds to the illumination. Because of all the natural ventilation and ceiling fans, you can smoke on the deck. And because the ownership is European, the staff looks the other way if you want to smoke inside.

You probably will want to linger in the beautiful teak English-style garden side chairs. No wonder that management locks up the heavy chairs every night when the restaurant closes.

Tetley's eclectic menu suggests a big-city American café and is nicely balanced with beef, fowl and seafood preparations. But the restaurant's gimmick is the steak & stone part of the menu. Here's what happens if you order an 8-ounce filet as I did.

Your meat arrives on a deep blue porcelain divided tray. In the center, on a slab of metal, sits a 6-inch square granite tile, one and half inches thick. The stone has been heated to 450 degrees and on it rests your steak, uncooked. The granite stone will remain hot for approximately 45 minutes. You cook the steak to the degree of doneness you want. Slice and sample as your steak continues to sizzle, or cook the whole steak at once and remove the meat to a side plate.

In the other sections of the platter are four dipping sauces, a starch (I chose fluffy light mashed sweet potato) and the vegetable du jour, which was a small bundle of crisp, fresh asparagus perched on a mound of ribbons of mild Napa cabbage.

The management contends that stone-cooking a steak requires no fat. And since the filet mignon, $25, and the ostrich loin, $28, (yes, ostrich), aren't fatty to begin, cooking tableside is fat-free. But if you order the flavorful ribeye ("cowboy steak" on the menu), expect to end up with grease on your shirt. Push the platter away from you a little when it arrives and you should be OK.

Romancing the stone is fun, but once is enough. Next time, I'm roaming on the other side of the menu and might opt for the veal chop stuffed with chopped mushrooms and Gorgonzola cheese, which my tablemate ordered and I sampled. Superb. Other tempting selections include lobster ravioli, roasted duck, double lamp chops ($30), porcini fettuccini or grilled shrimp. Appetizers include some of the usual suspects such as shrimp cocktail ($9), but I'd advise trying the tuna ceviche ($10) attractively presented in a martini glass, or the BBQ duck spring roll, a wonderful combination of Asian flavors and smooth and crunchy textures ($8). The appetizers are generous enough to share.

The wine list features about 100 selections. You'll recognize most of the names, and the prices range from $21 to about $80 a bottle. We chose a 1996 Vina Segui, reserve from Chile that was new to us. At $36, it turned out to be a good buy and perfectly acceptable. The wine glasses at Tetley's are a 22-ounce size, plenty large for swirling your reds.

The attentive waitstaff, in casual blue logo polo shirts and khaki trousers, provide lots of help with the stone cooking. They change out the silverware between courses (I appreciate that), remove crumbs and know a lot about what executive chef Harold Balink is whipping up in the open kitchen. The 30-year-old chef composed the menu and has an impressive history for one so young. A graduate of Johnson & Wales, he also holds a degree in hotel/restaurant management from Boston University. He's been the executive chef at South Seas Plantation in Captiva and at the swanky Ocean Reef in Key Largo.

Desserts at Tetley's are presented on a tray. You'll spot the ubiquitous key lime pie and crème brûlée. But a standout is a kind of pâté made with walnuts and Gorgonzola. Rich but not sweet, it's big enough to share and goes down nicely with a glass of port. The port is $9 a glass.

Tetley's Steak & Stone is a great place to take visitors, because the food is first rate and stone cooking adds a bit of adventure. But you can also return and enjoy it as an upscale neighborhood café. It's comfortable, the service is up to standards, and the Harold Balink's cosmopolitan menu is varied enough to keep regulars coming back for delicious surprises that don't include hot rocks.

Tetley's Steak & Stone, 1113 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach. 463-1686. Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday, 5-10 p.m. Brunch: Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Credit cards. Easy parking in a garage or lot in back of the restaurant. Reservations suggested during season. 

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