Taste


A Love Letter to Early Dining

Call it social hour. Call it a sunset menu. It’s anything but the early-bird special.

BY September 1, 2022
The best early dining restaurants in Southwest Florida
(Photo by Lori Hamilton)

There are few things finer than a Gulfshore sunset when the sky is filled with glittering light and the sun melts into the sea. In Southwest Florida, we like to enjoy our sunsets over dinner or, even better, after dinner. Other cities might prefer 10 p.m. reservations, but our corner of paradise is perfect for early dining. And, many of the finest local restaurants embrace the practice. From the bougainvillea-draped avenues of Naples to the still waters on Estero Bay, sunset menus feature some of the best dishes in the region at exceptional values. Golden light glowing across white table cloths, a glass of wine and a prix fixe order less than $100? Yes, please.

At Sails, on Fifth Avenue South in Naples, we love the look of late-afternoon light pouring through the restaurant’s picture windows and spilling over the cognac-hued leather seats. The three-course sunset menu changes seasonally and features first courses that range from fresh tomato and feta salad to tuna tartare to crispy pork belly. Entree choices might include a wood-grilled Mediterranean whole fish, organic chicken with seasonal roasted vegetables or grass-fed prime tenderloin. For dessert, we’re obsessed with the pineapple semifreddo (the Valrhona chocolate souffle is excellent, too). The menu’s an incredible value at around $80 per person.

During the golden hour, the lush tropical terrace of D’Amico’s The Continental simply glows. Framed by rustling palms, this outdoor setting is one of our best-loved venues for enjoying an early dinner. The 5-to-6 p.m. menu includes three courses, with a stunning steak and lobster tail selection. Neighboring Campiello—another favorite from restaurateur Richard D’Amico—offers a prix fixe menu at $32 for their early dining.

Farther north, the beautifully designed lounge at Angelina’s Ristorante in Bonita Springs charms in the early evenings with music from a live pianist. We’re fans of the restaurant’s three-course prezzo fisso menu served daily between 4 and 6 p.m. It’s a very reasonable $99 for two and includes $25 toward any bottle from Angelina’s wine tower.

In Fort Myers Beach, as the sun slips toward the horizon, we like to book a table at Bayfront Bistro. Estero Bay looks particularly beautiful in the early evenings through the restaurant’s picture windows. We love to watch the still waters reflect the last light in the sky while we sip a glass of wine with Key lime pie (both come with the restaurant’s three-course early menu).

If the fading day finds us on Sanibel, our hearts (and table reservations) belong to Bleu Rendez-Vous French Bistro (note: the restaurant closes in the off-season and reopens mid-October). The Paris-born chef prepares some of the finest dishes on the island in a warm and friendly atmosphere. The bistro is adored by locals and visitors, and it offers a two-course twilight menu between 5 and 5:30 p.m.—which leaves just enough time to catch the setting sun on Sanibel’s Bowman’s Beach. As we enjoy lingering after dinner, herons and egrets pass by overhead on their way to roost for the night. We’ve enjoyed a fine meal, the sun has set and we’re beginning to think about roosting, too.

 

Pick your next sunset menu with this curated list of seasonal dining specials across Southwest Florida.

Restaurant Week Returns

Southwest Florida’s Sizzle Dining restaurant week that spans both Collier and Lee Counties, is back from September 8 to 28, 2022. On offer are prix-fixe menus at more than 40 restaurants featuring three-course dinners (either $32 or $42) and two-course lunches (either $19 or $24).