This particular member of the Gulfshore Life family is conscientious to a fault. Relentless in her reporting. Scrupulous about getting her facts right. Ever-punctual about deadlines. But maybe, in her line of work, it’s all pretty understandable. For Dorothea Hunter Sönne is our food and wine editor, and who wouldn’t want to be tasked with hunting down, for example, “The 10 Best Spots for Waterfront Dining”?
Yet, Dorothea brings special passion and flair to the job. Who else would leave her Naples home at 10 a.m. with map and appetite to sample small meals at eight places in Lee County in one day? And who else describes dining out as “an adventure, living in another world—maybe India or Argentina—for a couple of hours”? After a year on the job, Dorothea sat down with me on a recent Friday afternoon to reflect on the dishes and chefs she has loved the most, the things that have surprised her on the dining beat, the occasional gaffes and more.
It should be pointed out, by the way, that besides her sophisticated palate, Dorothea’s got a solid background in food journalism (internship for the dining editor at Chicago magazine, five years covering food at Oprah magazine, overseeing restaurant coverage during her year as editor of Naples Illustrated).
Memorable Meals and Dishes
“I’m remembering a meal at the chef’s table at Sea Salt,” Dorothea says, “with seven or eight courses that was a modern take on Caesar salad, veal ravioli with creamy truffle sauce and topped off by a savory sorbet foaming and misting thanks to an infusion of liquid nitrogen.
“I don’t usually enjoy sweetbreads, but Mereday’s Fine Dining turned them into a dish I love because of the quality of meat and the sweet-savory sauce and sautéed vegetables.
“Then there’s the lobster roll at The Naples Beach Hotel with those big chunks of sweet lobster meat and the cheeseburger at the tavern at The Bay House. Pimento cheese is melted on the burger and contains a hodgepodge of condiments. It’s like relish meeting cheese. And the best pork chop I ever had was at the Blaze Bistro in Cape Coral.”
Dorothea says she’s surprised that a number of the good restaurants here are in strip malls—places like the original Inca’s Kitchen, Cote d’Azur, USS Nemo. She believes the dining scene has progressed in her five years in Naples, but, “You’re looking for three things from your dining experience,” she says. “Quality food, good service and ambiance. It’s hard to get all three consistently here.” And those $48 entrées? “On a cost basis,” Dorothea says, “you wonder whether they are really worth it.”
The food discoveries include Merrick’s Seafood in Cape Coral, where, Dorothea says, “They have good product with great enhancements.” She’s surprised by the pizza at The Local because it’s not traditional. Its veggie-based sauces and flat crusts have won her heart. At USS Nemo, she says, the surprise is that the French-Canadian chef, Nicolas Mercier, brings an Asian influence to his cooking with dishes like his ginger-steamed sea bass. “Another one of his dishes,” Dorothea says, “you think might be disgusting, but it’s one of my favorites in all of Naples. It’s a tuna steak cooked and paired with goat cheese, risotto and red pepper sauce.”
Raves About Chefs
Vincenzo Betulia (Osteria Tulia, Bar Tulia)—“He never gets too fancy, but his sophisticated attention to detail is telling. I never had a dish at his place that I didn’t love.”
Fabrizio Aielli (Sea Salt, Barbatella)—“He goes all out to make sure people leave satisfied, and he has great confidence in his staff, bringing out their talent, too.”
David Lani (7th Avenue Social)—“He’s a newcomer and gets such strong flavors from his Southern food with Latin touches.”
The Occasional Misfire
“Looking back at my first year at this,” Dorothea says, “I’m remembering in one place cheesecake being served in a crème brûlée ramekin, ordering a slider for $26 and getting two sad little sliders with no sides, and finding the service incompetent.”
But Dorothea’s appetite for taste thrills remains all-consuming. As we finished our interview, I offered her what turned about to be the last piece of handmade chocolate from a box I keep for special occasions. She couldn’t resist, but she did offer to share it. Sweet all around.