Fine French restaurants are like diamonds—you can never have too many. So when I heard that Southwest Florida was gaining another take on the French brasserie, I was delighted. And when I learned that chef Vincenzo Betulia of Osteria Tulia and Bar Tulia local fame was behind the new venture, I knew we’d hit the culinary jackpot.
The French Brasserie Rustique—or, as it’s known colloquially, The French—sits on Fifth Avenue South in Naples and feels, in fact, like two separate restaurants. The outside dining area is quintessential Fifth Avenue, with white lights strung from the trees in the courtyard and pink bougainvillea climbing white marble columns. The vibe is upscale and refined. Inside, the restaurant feels exactly like the kind of French brasserie you might enjoy in Paris, with white and black mosaic tiles on the floor, red-leather banquettes and a convivial, boisterous atmosphere. Pick either one—outside or inside, Naples or Paris—and you’re sure to experience some of the finest French food in the area, both timeless recipes and those born in this millennium.
On this particular night, my companions and I chose a diverse array for our first course. I ordered an exquisite plate of foie gras ($23), pan-seared and served over brioche toast with slices of pear poached in port wine. On the recommendation of our waitress, one friend opted for the lamb loin carpaccio ($18). The thin-sliced lamb arrived with circles of grilled local eggplant and goat cheese drizzled with an olive oil, garlic and mint charmoulah, a traditional Moroccan sauce.
The île flottante dessert
“My God,” my friend said when she took her first bite.
Our waitress nodded. “I know. It can be a religious experience dining here.”
My other friend chose the beet salad ($15), which combined quartered salt-roasted beets, feta, slivered green apples, walnuts and mixed lettuce.
“It’s amazing,” my friend said as he paused with his fork in his hand to savor the first bite. “You’d think just beets and lettuce, but no.”
He offered me a taste and it was, indeed, amazing—fresh and bright with complex flavors that belied the simple ingredients.
For our main courses we chose the roasted suckling pig ($32), squid-ink pasta quills served with lobster in a tomato-parmesan sauce ($29) and branzino with braised artichoke hearts ($38). To say each was delicious does not do them justice. They were exemplary, made from quality ingredients and cooked with an attention to fine detail.
Pouring a Novelle Fleur
For dessert we split the apple tarte tatin ($12) and the île flottante ($12), a mound of soft merengue served in a crème anglaise with fresh berries. Like the courses that had come before them, the desserts offered sophisticated flavors from seemingly simple ingredients.
It’s worth noting that in addition to the exceptional food, The French also serves excellent cocktails. We tried the Forêt Noir ($13), a blend of cognac, maple syrup and black walnut bitters, as well as the deceptively easy to drink Novelle Fleur ($13), made from tequila, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice and Aperol. The restaurant serves Chimay beer ($8) on tap, an imported brew from Trappist monks, and has an interesting selection of mostly French wine. Any would pair well with the outstanding meals on offer.
The French Brasserie Rustique
365 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239-315-4019, thefrenchnaples.com. Open daily 5-10 p.m. or until closed. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations strongly encouraged.