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A Thousand Flavors

Mille Saporé is exactly where you want to be at the close of a long day of doing something that requires effort and concentration. Unwinding at this welcoming pan-Mediterranean restaurant (with its open kitchen and comfortable bar) will lift your spirits, nourish your body and soothe your psyche. The soft lighting and surrounding creamy terra colors will even make you look better. The seductive powers of food and atmosphere are in full force here.

The owner, Jimmy Elsayed, is an Egyptian restaurateur who lived for 20 years in Milan, where he expanded his expertise in preparing all kinds of Mediterranean recipes. He moved to America eight years ago, came to visit a friend in Florida, and they decided to open a restaurant. Elsayed's ambitious venture is in a Fort Myers mall and defines Mediterranean generously, embracing not just familiar food from nations such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, but also offerings from Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco and Greece. With your entrées at Mille Saporé you may choose either rice pilaf, potato or couscous. The Lebanese dipping sauce (called zetter) you get with your fresh bread when you are seated is made with olives, sumac and rosemary.

The meals have a surprising span. You might want a simple sautéed veal chop (just fatty enough and really tender) or a breast of chicken in curry-banana cream sauce. There's paella (beautifully arranged and served for two), marinated lamb, tabouleh salad, escargot, spaghetti carbonara or lasagna, stuffed grape leaves, lentil soup and a full selection of pizzas. See where this is going? Everywhere you want to travel.

The wine list (about $35 to $200 per bottle) is a work in progress and features surprises such as dessert wines from Tunisia. With our meals we sampled a Corsican red ($35) that showed some of the characteristics of a petite syrah and had a pleasing black cherry finish. It was lovely with the lamb chops in pomegranate sauce. And do eat the fruit seeds in the sauce. Entrées average about $17.

Mille Saporé means a thousand flavors (with a little corruption in the spelling) and that's certainly the intent of the menu and the wine list. Every Sunday is Middle Eastern night with special items added to the usual menu. Because of the breadth of the offerings and the quality of the food, this is a restaurant that you could patronize often without fear of repeating a meal, unless of course one of those thousand flavors is your very favorite.

Mille Saporé

15880 Summerlin Road, Fort Myers. 437-5040. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4-9 p.m. Sunday. Credit cards. Parking in mall.

Naples has several outstanding French restaurants, but the one that emerged as winner in the Best French Restaurant category in Gulfshore Life's most recent Best of the Gulfshore issue is Chardonnay. The 14-year-old restaurant is exemplary not just for the extraordinary quality of its cuisine, but because this comfortable place strikes the right balance between formality and a relaxed ambience. The management suggests a jacket and tie for gentlemen but does not mandate it. The service is of the highest caliber; about a third of the serving staff are French. Silverware is replaced between courses, crumbs whisked away, glasses discreetly refilled. Best of all, Chardonnay is consistent. You can depend upon the dining room to perform to expectations every single time, whether it's for an intimate romantic dinner, a family celebration, or a place to impress an out-of-town client.

The dining rooms are downright elegant in a country French belle époque way, with brass chandeliers, fancy floral drapery, residential antique furniture scattered about, and comfy armchairs with Louis XV and XVI Styling. The tables are set with Vilroy and Boch chargers (basket pattern) and a single fresh rose rests in a cobalt bud vase. Chardonnay seats 175, but it seems much more intimate due to the clever design of the four separate dining rooms. A thick carpet absorbs sound so that table chatter is gentle on the ears.

Co-owner/chef Jean Claude Martin's is enthusiastic about r organ meats. The kitchen does them just as all expert French restaurants should.. Lovers of authentic French cuisine will be happy to find not only foie gras, veal sweetbreads (the thymus gland and pancreas of a calf), but also calf liver and kidneys, too. They're done in a mustard sauce that is just right. The duck pâté (with pistachios) is toothsome.

Escargot is a special treat. Chef serves tender snails out of the shells on a pillow of angel hair pasta bathed in a garlic cream sauce. At $10.25, this is a must-have hot appetizer. If you double the price, you can have the escargot as an entrée (you can do this with all the appetizers), and it will be served to you with bread, salad and a vegetable and starch mélange. If you elect to share appetizers, know that there is a $2 split charge.

Rabbit (in champagne sauce), frog legs, Dover sole meunière, roast duck and the familiar medallions of beef flambé with Armagnac are all there. And, yes, you'll also be able to sip comforting vichyssoise or French onion soup. The wine list, a combination of predominantly French and California vintages, is fairly comprehensive and organized for American reading.. If in doubt about a selection, ask your server. Each is well trained in pairing the cellar selections with the kitchen specialties.

Entrées average about $26, appetizers $11 and desserts range from $6.25 for peach Melba or crème brûlée up to $11 for the fresh raspberry soufflé. There are actually three soufflé selections, and if you intend to have one for dessert you must order it at the beginning of the meal because each is made individually. The Grand Marnier is the most popular, and it should be-cloud light, sweet yet tart, it is custard elevated to something entirely regal.

Chardonnay Restaurant & Lounge

2331 Tamiami Trail, Naples. 261-1744 Dinner: Nightly 5:30-10 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations suggested. Credit cards. Valet parking.

Chop Chop: Every restaurant thinks it makes a great chopped salad, but few actually do. Besides insisting on the freshest of ingredients and carefully balancing the flavors and textures, the trick is in the chopping so that everything is of small, uniform size, but not so tiny that you end up with a mouthful of garden confetti. Periwinkle Place Bistro gets it right. Co-owner Tom Albert reports that the chopped salad is the single most requested item at lunch and has been a staple on the menu for three years. Made with grilled chicken, baked ham, provolone and the usual crisp greens, it's tossed with Dijon vinaigrette. The salad is served in a large white soup bowl and garnished with a light toss of fresh parsley. At $8.95, it's as pretty as it is refreshing. Periwinkle Place Bistro, Periwinkle Shopping Center, 2075 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island. 472-2525. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and take- out.

Gulfshore diners still favor such classic desserts as chocolate cake, crème brulee and key lime pie, but some new ingredients and flavors are appearing on trendy dessert plates. Here are some of the top dessert trends that may be coming our way:

* Cold fruit soups

* * Dramatic presentations

* Less sweet desserts. Look for sharp, clean, tart flavors with unexpected ingredients such as pink peppercorns and Chinese five-spices

* The use of tea, especially green tea.

* Including vegetables (squash, pumpkin, corn) in desserts

* Spicy ice creams and sorbets

o Oversized and unusually shaped plates and bowls

* Asian ingredients and presentation

* Gelatins are back, but mainly for structure-tasteless gelatin in panna cotta, for example, or grapefruit jelly as part of a tasting platter.

* Tasting platters of about five mini-desserts, creatively balanced for color, flavor and texture

* Polenta sweetened and used with fruit bits and coulis as a dessert.

China Beach: Fort Myers Beach has a new take-out/delivery Chinese eatery called Lin's Garden that is fast, reliable and serves tasty pan-regional Chinese and Chinese-American dishes. I especially like the way the chefs package the entrées in aluminum containers. You can eat right out of the rectangular serving dish or warm it in the oven. Just remember to remove the clear plastic top. Only the obligatory sticky rice comes to your house in the traditional white cardboard box with the wire handle. The open kitchen at Lin's means you can watch three young cooks work at wok, grill and steam equipment. Color photographs of many of the dishes on the extensive menu line the walls so you can see exactly what you'll get. Egg rolls ($1 each) are a winner and I'm also partial to the beef and scallops in garlic sauce ($10.95). There's a diet menu (everything is steamed), plenty of combination platters, extra-hot dishes so designated by a pepper icon, and Americana sides such as onion rings and French fries you can order to enhance your Pu Pu Platter or Crab Rangoon. Free delivery for orders over $15. Fortune cookies complimentary. Lin's Garden, 2943 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach. 463-0890. Open seven days a week, credit cards welcome.

Pardon My French: Leave it to the French to come up with a subtle way to address the rudeness of cell phone use at table. At the charming Le Coq Au Vin country French restaurant in Orlando, celebrated for its dessert soufflés and hearty rustic meals, proprietors Magdalena and Louis Perrotte have added this note to the bottom of their menu: "The use of cellular phones may affect the rising of our famous soufflés." Wouldn't it be useful if our area restaurants would also discourage cell phone use tableside by saying something clever on the menu?

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