Harold’s is the kind of restaurant I mention often. When people ask me for a recommendation—anniversaries, birthdays, in-laws in town—this chef-driven eatery is invariably on my list. If you haven’t been, it’s worth booking a table soon. And if you have, then you know the menu is always changing with what’s available locally and in-season. I stopped by recently for dinner with friends, and the meal was its own unique experience.
Mascarpone, basil and tomato flavor a creamy risotto with Sanibel shrimp.
We began with a diverse selection. One friend chose an excellent Sanibel shrimp risotto ($14), made with small sweet shrimp caught in local waters and cooked in the creamy rice with mascarpone and basil. Another friend selected the colossal blue crab salad ($9), which featured large chunks of the crustacean stacked atop a pickled cucumber. The flavor was bright and fresh, slightly tart, with an unexpected combination of tastes and textures. Both the risotto and the crab salad were complex dishes, so I opted for the infinitely simpler split pea and ham soup ($4). If the test of a good chef is how he or she approaches the most basic dishes, then my soup—hearty and full in flavor—was a testament to chef Harold Balink’s outstanding skills.
For our main courses, my friends and I chose three meat options. One selected the Circle C Farm lamb ($28), raised in Bonita Springs and served with lentils, feta and a tomato-basil marmalade. The lamb was fork-tender, and the Mediterranean inspiration of the accent ingredients served to highlight its flavor. The other friend chose the prime filet ($40) from Jackman Ranch, near Clewiston, topped with a crab gratin and served with dauphinoise potatoes and a truffle sauce.
“Oh, my God,” my friend said when he took his first bite. “This is amazing.”
He passed me a bite, and it was in fact amazing—partly because of the preparation, I’d say, but also because of the freshness and quality of the local meat. For my main dish I ventured outside Florida, choosing the more exotic elk chop ($42), which was grilled and served with a lingonberry compote and onion-papaya slaw. I enjoyed the particular taste of wild game, and not one of us left anything on our plates.
Blueberry compote tops a house-made goat cheese cheesecake.
When our waiter brought the dessert menus, I wasn’t sure if we were up for it—after all, we’d eaten a significant amount of food. But when I asked if the desserts were made in-house and he said, “We make everything except the beer, the bread and the wine,” that decided it. We ordered three. The chocolate bread pudding ($9) had just the right balance of chocolate and cream, and the goat cheese cheesecake ($9), though it had a delicious zing, was not overpowering. Yet, the chocolate ice cream ($3), by far the most basic of the three desserts, was a unanimous favorite. Deceptively simple, it was infused with the perfect amount of quality cocoa.
With so many outstanding restaurants in this area, it can be hard to return to the same spot again and again. But Harold’s is always worth another visit, special occasion or not.
15250 S. Tamiami Trail, Suite 107, 239-849-0622, haroldscuisine.com. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations encouraged.