On the night of my recent dinner, I stepped inside C Level Bistro & Wine Bar and wondered if I hadn’t crossed the threshold into a hip South Beach eatery.
I knew it had spent the last six years quietly rising to the top of Bonita’s upscale restaurant scene and that it had become a go-to fine dining destination for many, with people driving down from Fort Myers and up from Naples to experience it—but I had yet to make it there myself.
The main dining room, I discovered, is rail-thin with high-top tables on one side and a long bar on the other. The bar is gilded silver with blue neon lighting running the length of it, and the walls are decorated with chrome portholes and bright mirrors.
C Level’s owner is British, which explains the chic European feel, and the menu is classic French. Our waitress told us that the original chef—who has since handed the reins to an American protégé—cooked for Charles de Gaulle.
Wine from an impressively extensive list made a nice complement to this pan-seared branzino.
My dining companion and I chose to begin with the restaurant’s signature chicken liver pâté ($11) and a bowl of French onion soup ($10). The pâté was exquisite, served with sliced garlic bread and onion chutney. The soup—to our great surprise—arrived with a small pair of scissors sticking out of the bowl.
“What do we do with these?” I asked the waiter.
“Believe me,” he said. “You don’t want to tackle that soup with a spoon. Start with the scissors.”
He was right—the thick layer of cheese and bread needed the scissors before we could reach the broth at the bottom. My companion worked it over, and finally we were able to reach for a bite. It was delectable, a perfect portioning of cheese, bread and savory-salty broth.
For our main courses we chose the filet mignon au poivre ($44) and the evening’s special, pan-seared branzino ($34). Neither required special tools, thankfully, and both were excellent. My companion’s steak was cooked perfectly rare, as she requested, and the fish, prepared skin-on, had a crisp sear.
“Usually the vegetables are an afterthought,” my companion said, spearing a roasted carrot on her plate. “But even these have been treated with care.”
For dessert we split the crêpes suzette ($12), and, much like everything else at C Level, they were a perfectly executed rendition of the classic.
It’s worth noting that the wine list is extensive—so extensive that when I asked a waitress how many bottles they have available, she couldn’t give me a number.
“Very, very many,” she said. (I counted 18 Pinot Noirs alone, a mix from California, Oregon and France, plus a few extra on the “special limited” bottles list.)
C Level is nice enough to be a special occasion restaurant, but it still feels approachable, the kind of spot I’d be glad to dine in any day of the week. I’m just sorry it took me six years to discover it.
Related: Southwest Florida Restaurant Guide
C Level bistro & Wine Bar
4450 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs, 239-221-7046, c-levelbar.com. Open Monday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Closed Sundays. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations recommended.