Before you visit La Corte Bistro in Cape Coral, you’ll first need to get a handle on the name. It’s pronounced la-cor-tay, as in Italian, though if you’re scanning the menu you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be French. This upscale restaurant that has taken over the space once occupied by Brew Babies leans toward Italian dishes, though there are a few French classics like duck confit and filet mignon. The owners of La Corte are, in fact, Italian, but it’s worth noting that the chef, Tim Spain, is Florida-born and -bred. He works his own distinctive palate into the mix.
The updated interior of La Corte feels at once luxurious and classic with refined architectural details and hanging chandeliers, the sort of place that makes you want to order a sidecar or maybe a gin gimlet. My dining companion did exactly that, starting the meal with an excellent rendition of an old fashioned ($11).
“I feel like I should be sitting on the deck of the Queen Mary,” he said, “holding a cigar in one hand and this drink in the other.”
Drinks imbibed, we ordered appetizers—meatballs ($12) for him and grilled fennel ($13) for me. My companion is from an Italian family, and he gave the meatballs his enthusiastic approval. They were dense and richly flavored, the sauce a perfect red, not too acidic and just a touch sweet. The grilled fennel was a surprise to both of us. It arrived in slices accompanied by slivers of red onion, sliced olives and wedges of Florida oranges, all of this drizzled in a balsamic reduction. The flavors were as deliciously complex as they were unexpected.
For my main course I opted for the rack of lamb ($42), though I was tempted by the salmon served with cabbage palm in a nod to the chef’s Florida roots. The lamb—pasture-raised, prepared with a Dijon demi-glace—was one of the best versions of this dish I’ve tasted. The meat was succulent and earthy, perfectly accented with a persillade (parsley sauce). My companion opted for the pork osso buco ($28, right), which arrived fork-tender in a Madeira demi-glace. Like the lamb, the dish was exceptional.
It’s hard to believe we had room for dessert, but we somehow found a way. I wanted to try the chocolate mousse cheesecake ($10), and my companion was set on the baba au rhum ($10). So we ordered both. The rum baba, a lightly sweet pastry similar to a brioche filled with cream and soaked in the distilled spirit, was airy and easy to eat. My friend said it reminded him of desserts his grandmother made. The cheesecake, too, was mildly sweet and light, exactly the right finish to this remarkable meal.
La Corte Bistro
1520 Lafayette St., Cape Coral, 239-542-2224, lacortebistro.com. Open Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Sundays 5-9 p.m. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations recommended.