Food + Dining Main

Dining Review: Alto Live Jazz Kitchen

With a new executive chef, Alto Live Jazz Kitchen has found a pleasing rhythm with its soulful cooking and live music.

BY February 27, 2015


Fine-Tuned at Last

It is far from revelatory to rhapsodize that Charles Mereday has scored three accolade-collecting restaurants in the time it normally takes a chef to launch one.

His second effort, Alto Live Jazz Kitchen, opened with a bang (where else in Naples could you get high-concept food served nightly with a set of professional scatting?). It then foundered somewhat, the kitchen falling short of the lofty standards set by Mereday at his eponymous fine dining location just a stone’s throw south. A recent visit with a friend of mine, however, a few months after a shake-up that brought in a new executive chef, Jay Bucklin, left us happily confident that Alto is back in tune.

The menu is fairly concise with a notable New Orleans flair (although you can expect to see the odd Asian sticky bun or seafood pasta Provencal). It does not read with astounding ingenuity: Our eyes quickly glossed over a shrimp cocktail ($14) and filet with mashed potatoes ($42). But after two appetizers, one shared plate, two entrées and two desserts with nary a bite left, we realized execution is the name of this game.

The mussels ($12) were tender, sweet and worthy of being scooped up in a spoonful of the accompanying butter and white-wine garlic sauce. My only wish was for a proper utensil, as attempts to extract a couple from their shells with a full-size fork resulted in unfortunate mangling. (Such, however, proved how delicate they were.) A ham hock and okra gumbo ($9) was bursting with rich flavor, replete with succulent crawfish and not, as these kinds of soups can often be, salted unbearably. We rounded out our first course with a charcuterie and cheese plate ($14), featuring an intriguing mélange of pickled green beans, tomatoes and watermelon rind with a nicely spiced chutney.

I devoured my pork chop entrée ($32). The meat’s tangy glaze harmoniously balanced the sweet potato purée served with it. Both were rounded out by the acidity and slight bite of a shaved fennel and apple slaw. Though initially I found it curious when the server asked if I’d like the pork well done, I was pleased to see it came out perfectly at the medium temperature I requested. I’d order it again in a minute.

Fried catfish with collard greens, dirty rice and an étouffée sauce ($28) was also a big hit. The flesh was superbly moist and the batter so agreeably crunchy. The rice and greens stood on their own merits, seasoned well but not overly so.

 Stuffed at this point but not deterred, we pressed on with pumpkin cheesecake ($10) and brioche doughnuts with coffee ice cream ($10). The cheesecake, which varies according to the chef’s fancy, was light on pumpkin flavor. In fact, a touch more would have been welcome, but since the texture was delightfully creamy and smooth, the precise taste was almost secondary. And aside from the doughnuts being a bit dense, the play on the traditional theme was well-conceptualized. Both desserts were presented beautifully on the plate.

A lovely Sean Minor pinot noir ($14/glass) served me well from start to finish. The eclectic wine list is short and sweet with an emphasis on quality, just like the menu.

Though by 9 p.m. on a Sunday the live music portion of the evening—itself a great treat—had wound down, we were content to sit and savor our final bites. When all was said and done, the clear verdict was we’ll be back, for the food and for the entertainment. A rarity in Naples and indeed most anywhere, Alto’s nightly staged show is central to the dining experience, featuring some local jazz acts in regular rotation and others that fly in from across the country and globe. What we knew for sure was that on an otherwise dreary, rainy night, we were more than amply cheered by good music, kind service and memorable food.


Alto Live Jazz Kitchen   

492 Bayfront Place, Naples, 261-2586, Monday through Thursday 4-11 p.m. (bar), 5-11 p.m. (dining room). Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to midnight (bar), 5 p.m. to midnight
(dining room). Sunday 4-10 p.m. (bar), 5-10 p.m. (dining room). Wheelchair accessible. Reservations recommended.  


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