The trick to being cool—or so I’ve heard—is to not try to be cool. Cool just happens. This may be why Ryan Kida, owner and chef of Fort Myers’ Yabo, chose the quirky name. Was Yabo, which is Australian slang for “lazy bum,” chosen as an invitation for patrons to chill, or to downplay the effort it takes to pull off such an eclectic success? Whatever his reason, my friend Caitlin and I both exclaimed, “Oooh! Cool!” when we stepped inside. Warehouse-height ceilings painted the same matte-black as the walls, authentic concert posters, and rock memorabilia took me back to the live local-band dives from my grungy college days. Except this place smelled better. Way better. Like garlic and warm bread.
Our table was directly right of the large stage, which promised live music later in the evening and afforded a great view of the large bar that stretched from the center of the interior out to the large tiki-torchlit patio. I was admiring how the blackand- red harlequin pattern at the bar managed not to clash with the leopard-print carpeting when Andrew, our server, came to our black vinyl-topped table.
The wine list offered a large selection of by-the-glass options. Because I love zinfandel and silly words, I couldn’t resist ordering a glass of 2009 Lodi Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel ($9). Caitlin ordered a glass of Pennywise Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($7). Andrew also brought a squat loaf of hot, flaky crusted bread. The roasted garlic spread, not at all garlicky but smooth and sweet, proved an ideal match.
We shared an appetizer, the livornese ($12)—sautéed calamari in a spicy tomato basil sauce. The calamari swarmed in a large soup bowl, looking as if it might climb out and join us. I ignored the slither and dove in with a spoon. This dish earned several “wows” as we kept diving. The calamari was tender, and the broth light and well seasoned.
I’d heard that Bec’s bags—white truffle and cheese pouches in olive oil ($20)—are a can’t-miss dish, so we were disappointed to find that the kitchen was out of this item. Foregoing the meatier entrees such as the lamb chop (the Mate—market price) or the Kong, a NY strip in a rosemary cabernet demi-glace ($30), Caitlin chose eggplant parmesan ($16), and I selected the shrimp fettuccine ($24). We also returned to the wine menu. I selected the 2009 Drops of Jupiter Petite Sirah ($7), which was terrific. Caitlin enjoyed ordering (and drinking) a glass of 2009 Ass Kisser Shiraz ($8).
The eggplant parmesan showed up without a typical pasta accompaniment, but the huge slab of eggplant tucked under layers of ricotta and parmesan and sauce was more than plenty. It had good flavor and was neither soggy nor bitter. We deemed it above average. My fettuccine was faultless—housemade and cooked just right. The shrimp were large yet still succulent, the cherry tomatoes added nice color, and the spinach steamed enough to enhance the flavor without losing texture. The sauce was light, a creamy concoction weighted well with pancetta and garlic. If there were leftovers to take home, my husband was going to have to ask really nicely for me to share. Halfway through the dish, I figured I could probably barter for some window washing or a foot rub. Cool, indeed.
Which reminds me, another secret to achieving cool is to surround yourself with it. Let others make you look good. Yabo contracts its desserts with Norman Love, the best of the best when it comes to sweets. I ordered the chocolate tiramisu ($10), which was perfect in every way. Caitlin ordered the peanut butter dessert ($10), a multi-layered, gelatinous dome of mousse and crust and peanut butter that was fun to poke at and better to eat.
My waistline expanded by this fine meal left me that much further from attaining the ever-elusive cool, which I’m not all that close to in any event. But being cool isn’t everything.
Being happy and well-fed is. Thanks, Yabo.
Yabo, 16230 Summerlin Road, Fort Myers; (239) 225-9226, yaborestaurant.com. Open 5-9:30 p.m. Mon-Sat. Credit cards accepted. Reservations highly recommended. Wheelchair accessible
Punta Gorda’s renowned Perfect Caper, is a must-visit for folks who venture north of Fort Myers—and worth the drive even if you don’t often make it that far. My favorite appetizers include gluten-free crispy calamari, the house salad with mustard vinaigrette and the shaved Brussels sprouts with Gala apples, Pecorino cheese and currants. Top entrées crispy duck confit with lentil cassoulet, morel-dusted sea scallops and pan-seared crab cake. For dessert, try the chocolate bread pudding and the gingerbread and dulce de leche gelato sandwich. 121 E. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, (941) 505-9009, theperfectcaper. com
Daniela’s Restaurant’s welcoming trio of Italian, Hungarian and Romanian cuisines attracts a devoted clientele to its bistro setting. Start with the Romanian soup du jour or the mushroom-spinach ravioli. Then savor the classics: cabbage rolls filled with beef, pork and rice; grilled beef, pork and lamb sausages; chicken stew with spaetzle; or wiener schnitzel. 13500 Tamiami Trail N., Naples, 514-4414, danielas-restaurant.com
Naples’ Camilla Eastern European Foods Market has served varied Russian foods and Eastern European cuisine for years. Relax in a truly cosmopolitan setting with Chef Sergey Kashkin’s fresh salads, sandwiches and wraps. House specialties include kefir and kefir grains, dried fish, Russian beer, Georgian wines, kvass, sprats, smoked herring and whitefish, caviar, pelmeni, Russian candies, cookies and chocolates, authentic halva, and varied salami and bologna. Raw milk, butter and yogurts are a natural treat. 4947 Tamiami Trail N., Suite 102, Naples, 776-7034, facebook.com/camillafoods
What We’re Drinking
We ask local wine experts for the bottles they are bringing home.
AS A MID-WEST native, the Southwest Florida winters are difficult for me (and most reasonable people) to consider harsh. The slight dip in temperature, however, is conducive with one of my favorite things— big red wines! From cabernet to petite sirah, Borolo to Chateauneuf- Du-Pape, the ever-so-gentle break from the heat affords us the opportunity to reconnect with some of the big boys that are harder to enjoy during the hot summer months.
My wine of the moment is the 2009 Tenuta Luce Della Vite (commonly known as simply “Luce”) from Tuscany, which retails for between $60-80. It is a blend of merlot and sangiovese that would make even the most cabernet-only wine drinkers smile. The Luce estate was founded in the mid-1990s through a collaboration of the Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi families in Montalcino, Italy. These two families are powerhouses of winemaking in their respective regions and have come together in harmonious perfection to make this award-winning blend. The nose brings out essence of cedar, leather and blackberry while the palate is engulfed with ripe plum and black pepper. The Luce is a perfect complement to a porterhouse, lasagna, osso buco or just to drink on its own.
—Andy Crounse is the events manager and a sommelier at Decanted Wines on Pine Ridge Road in Naples.