Part of a small, Texas-based chain of restaurants, it is anything but cookie-cutter. The dining room seems oversized at first, but its popularity fills the warm, welcoming space at the back of Inn on Fifth most nights. They come for their fix of various varieties of crab, lobster, grouper topped with crawfish and shrimp, miso-glazed sea bass, Faroe Island salmon, sweet and spicy Pacific yellowtail, plus fine steaks and chops. Steak cuts include filet mignon with or without bone in, ribeye, and New York strip. The signature Filet Oscar Royale adds caviar to the typical crab, asparagus and bearnaise Oscar topping.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: Seafood and steak par excellence are trademark at this fine eatery.
Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the stone crab - Truluck's owns its own nearby fishery. It's that fresh!
The menu changes with the seasons at Wylds, but the tenderloin saga remains a constant. Wading in a pool of demi-glace, the grilled filet mignon gets piled with shards of pomme frites and the glue of melted saga blue cheese. A take on steak frites that one-ups the French. Just one example of how this Bonita Springs favorite creates buzz. Some other examples? Enigma Salad - tenderly sauteed duck, shiitake mushrooms, tomato, avocado, capers and romaine with parmesan-peppercorn dressing; roast duck Napoleon layered with shiitakes, spinach in garlic bechamel and puff pastry; parmesan-crusted walleye pike; roasted duck and foie gras sausage with cavatelli pasta, shiitakes, and sage butter sauce. So don't be put off by the strip mall location and plain dining room. This place is the toast of local foodies.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: This is Bonita Springs' first choice among foodies from near and far.
Chelle's expert tip: Never pass up on the cinnamon bread pudding when it shows up on the dinner menu. It's to die for with pecan praline crust, warm caramel sauce and créme anglaise
From soupe a l'oignon to the nuts in the apple tarte tatin, everything feels and tastes deliciously francais at this addition to the Fifth Avenue South litany of inimitable dining experiences. Chef Vincenzo Betulia, the mastermind of two eateries up the street, leaves his native Italy for a rustic brasserie adventure in an art nouveau setting with a massive display kitchen and charming bar offering indoor-outdoor service. The lunch/Sunday brunch menu spans eggs, a $22 prime rib burger, pasta and steak frites. What's for dinner? Start with the oeufs mimosa - deviled eggs with braised Portuguese octopus and napa cabbage - or chopped tartare and cornichons. Both demonstrate Betulia's flair for turning folk food gourmet. Trout Amandine, crisp duck leg confit with sour cherry, pan-roasted chicken with wild mushroom ragout... the entrée choices are concise and carefully crafted. Plats du jour add a bit of nostalgia as do classic cocktails and comfort desserts.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: This virtual trip to France feels and tastes authentic.
Chelle's expert tip: The sidewalk tables feel so Parisian, you expect to look up and see the L'Arc de Triomphe. Request one when you make your reservation.
Subtitled "an American Bistro," Verdi's has been Marco Island's culinary boast for well over a decade. Don't be fooled by its simple strip mall setting. The kitchen offsets the simplicity with marvelously crafted seafood and meat dishes presented with style and multi-dimensional flavor. Here's a small sampling: pan-seared Chilean sea bass with hoisin sauce glaze, sauteed spinach, fingerling potatoes and tomato concasse; Snapper Mediterranean with sauteed spinach, tomatoes, green and black olives and jasmine rice with feta cheese; and its signature grilled New Zealand rack of lamb with garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, port, and lamb and mint demi-glaze. Alcohol is beer and wine only, but the wine selection is robust and varied.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: On Marco Island's culinary landscape, this stand-out has survived by sheer excellence for many years.
Chelle's expert tip: Make reservations several days in advance during high season (Christmas through Easter).
The Continental is what foodies term a "meatery," a step above standard steakhouses. Its niche is two-fold: name-ranch steaks and craft cocktails. But yet it is multi-faceted, offering also such original concepts as it's daily changing fresh fish and dessert pie menus. The steak takes center stage, however. It occupies one page of the dinner food menu, divided among the restaurant's four beef providers. Each touts its own connoisseur-level characteristics. Yet The Continental is clearly no ordinary steakhouse. Owners break the mold with their menus, but also with the restaurant's design. The dining room, which shows the telltale opulence of a typical steakhouse, opens onto the courtyard, where a convivial bar, bougainvillea-framed setting, cabanas and live dinner entertainment make this something wholly other.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: Its top-of-the-line steaks, craft cocktails and other fine food and drink make for special-occasion dining.
Chelle's expert tip: If key lime blackberry pie is on the day's pie menu, don't pass it up. It adds lush blackberries to the traditional silky key lime recipe.
The kitchen's excellence stems from exquisite attention to detail - from a house-cured cherry in the Manhattan cocktail in the convivial bar to fanfare touches such as citrus tomato butter and candied pecans with Angelina's long-favored butternut squash ravioli and slow-roasted pork belly with the pan-seared scallops. Other stellar dishes: mussels in lobster and shrimp stock, agnolotti pasta stuffed with slow-roasted veal and topped with wild mushrooms, and sea salt-baked snapper for two. An award-winning selection of wine occupies a three-story glass tower in the elegant, Old World-style dining room. The final superlatives go to the staff - friendly, unflappable and uncommonly capable.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: Angelina's has jumped a couple of notches on the gourmet scale in the past couple of years and is now among the best.
Chelle's expert tip: In the winter, Angelina's offers a special black truffle menu with pasta and meat dishes you can bump up with truffle shavings.
The first dilemma: Sit al fresco and people watch along busy Fifth Avenue South or enter the embrace of "farmhouse chic" indoors, where repurposed barn wood creates warmth and character? Then the food ordering decision! The lunch menu may be small, but it is also packed with wow. Chef Vincent Betulia makes everything himself - from the pancetta on the duck liver crostino to the fennel sausage with Tuscan white beans. Pizza ranges from classic tomato with basil and mozzarella to A Night in Naples - fennel salami, caramelized onions, Fresno peppers, tomato confit and mozzarella. Even the ham and cheese panini has a twist, made with prosciutto cotto and fontina cheese.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: Out of all of Naples' Italian restaurants, this one is truly original and authentic in ambiance and cuisine.
Chelle's expert tip: For a refreshing warm-weather cocktail, try the Fiori - passionfruit-infused vodka with passionfruit nectar, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, muddled raspberries and effervescent limonata.
Chef Fabrizio Aielli comes from a stellar background that covers Italy, the Caribbean and two of his own highly hailed Washington, DC, restaurants. At Sea Salt, he conceived dining centered around the sea. To carry the concept, he stocks more than 100 different varieties of salt and infused flavored salts. Dinner at Sea Salt begins with a three-flight sampler of salt to season dishes to come. Convivial and inspired by chef's Venetian birthright, the setting transitions from the outdoor, pet-friendly patio to indoor casual elegance via a bar that circles outdoor to in. Colors from the beach and sea decorate the sweeping interior. The main menu intertwines cultures - charcuterie, sea urchin poached in duck fat, ravioli stuffed with braised veal, salt-encrusted branzino, akaushi beef and whole fresh fish from the showcase.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: Chef Fabrizio Aielli brings his Washington, D.C., celebrity and inspired talent to Naples.
Chelle's expert tip: For a grand splurge, reserve the Chef's Table in the kitchen for a group of friends. Chef Aielli will cater specifically to your palates.
Nothing beats a dinner out at the Ritz, where service, setting and culinary excellence combine to foment an experience that transcends mere eating by miles. The Grill excels in fine steaks but also knows its way around seafood. Dry-aged cuts include New York strip, ribeye and Delmonico, plus filet mignon, veal chop and Colorado rack of lamb. Why not splurge further and add a side of foie gras or half a lobster tail? Signature entrees run the gamut from lobster, scallops and Scottish salmon to classic Dover sole meuniere. Despite its formality, the atmosphere feels relaxed. Live music, usually light piano, frequently entertains.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: Its private club setting, fine steaks and award-winning wine list make it one of Naples' most prestigious restaurants.
Chelle's expert tip: It's known for its dessert souffles - the Grand Marnier is best. Don't forget to order it early in the meal as it takes some time to bake.
"Excellence" describes the new Sails Restaurant from start to finish. From start: Owners meticulously sourced decor items such as a Greek marble bar in the shape of a sail, dishware, and the finest seafood and steaks to create a modern European coastal setting and cuisine. Guests select their own fresh seafood, its poundage and its preparation: wood grilled, salt baked or seared a la plancha. Artistically presented seafood towers, crudos and tartares launch a memorable experience. Courses of seafood salads, house-made pasta, fine steaks and global entrees ensue. Try the Peppered Tuna Rossini with seared foie gras, black truffle and charcoal-roasted onions; or prime tomahawk rib steak with garlic confit. An exacting wine list and decadent, modern dessert menu are the final excellence icing on this lovely cake.
Recommended for Fine Dining because: Top-shelf service pairs with the most artful, exacting cuisine possible.
Chelle's expert tip: Order a seafood tower for two to share for starters and the deadly sinful chocolate Grand Marnier to finish.