Because I eat out for a living, it’s easy to become blasé about the dining experience. After a time, one good plate starts to look like another. But sometimes I’ll discover a new restaurant that makes me want to grab the next person I pass by the collar and say, “You have to eat there.” That’s how I felt about Petar’s Restaurant, a new continental eatery tucked into a Publix shopping plaza off Bonita Beach Road.
The restaurant itself is small, with a dozen or so bistro tables inside and a few more outside. Half of the potential dining area is taken up by an open kitchen. There’s a single candle on each table, and mirrors are the only decoration on the walls. Even the menu is understated. On the night of my dinner, it listed just four appetizers, three main courses and three desserts. Yet somehow all of these simple elements combined to make a wowing experience. I think it had to do with the food.
To begin, my companion and I ordered the crab cake and the butternut squash risotto. In this part of Florida, I rarely run across a menu that doesn’t list crab cakes. Upscale venues, low-brow fish joints—everybody has their take. Petar’s take, I should say, is especially noteworthy. The outside of the crab cake was pan-fried perfectly golden, crisp but not overdone, while the inside remained flavorful, blending crab meat with fresh herbs. The warm cake was served on a layer of chilled mango and papaya salsa, which was exactly the right accent.
The risotto, too, was similarly full of flavor, rich and creamy with a drizzle of paprika oil. When my companion tried a bite, she said, “I could make a meal off that.” I thought the same, and I was glad when my main course arrived with another serving of risotto, this time made with fresh spinach and button mushrooms. Risotto is one of those dishes I rarely indulge in, but on this particular night, given the deft handling of the other plates, I knew it was the right course of action.
To accompany my second helping of risotto for the evening, I had a piece of salmon with a lightly crisped golden exterior and a firm and moist interior. Salmon is another dish I find on nearly every fine-dining menu, one of those entrées that can start to seem interchangeable. But the version at Petar’s was particularly memorable, not because of any grandiose culinary gestures but because it was prepared exceedingly well.
My companion’s meal was equally outstanding: homemade linguine in a cream sauce topped with sliced fresh asparagus and two large chunks of lobster claw. Again, the effect was light and fresh with the feel of quality ingredients behind the dish. The restaurant doesn’t even have a freezer, which makes sense when you taste the food.
I’m often wary when it comes to dessert because even good restaurants can lose their footing. Petar’s does not. The choices were simple—a crème brûlée or a homemade crêpe with either chocolate sauce and bananas or berries and crème anglaise. My companion selected the creme brûlée and I chose the crêpe with the berries. The crème brûlée was lightly sweet with the right consistency—silken, not too firm, with notes of cream and eggs. My crêpe was still warm from the pan, filled with a thin layer of crème anglaise, also not too sweet, with fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. It’s not often I eat every bite on my plate, but my fork made a scraping sound as I gathered up the last traces of dessert.
In the weeks since my meal, chef Petar Al Kurdi has added more dishes, and as his following grows he plans to further expand the menu. My sense is that this will happen sooner rather than later. As I left the restaurant, I was already compiling a list of people I had to tell about this exciting new dining discovery.
If you go …
Petar’s Restaurant: 3300 Bonita Beach Road, Unit 120, Bonita Springs, 494-1343, petarsrestaurant.com. Open for dinner daily, 4:30-9 p.m. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations suggested.