May/June 2001

Restaurants with an
International Flair

Dining out in Southwest Florida no longer means your choices are limited to local fare. If you’ve seen one too many uninspired steak dishes or fish sandwiches, treat your taste buds to the flavors of international cuisine at one of several area restaurants for a meal with a worldly accent.
    From the outside in, diners are treated to the “sweet life” at Sanibel’s Dolce Vita (1244 Periwinkle Way, 941/472-5555), where the food and atmosphere are generous and rich. Mood-enhancing piano music and the complementary grace of the staff and owner/host Andrea Mucciga make for an unforgettable dining experience. Low lights, warm tones, and dark wood set the mood for lush beginnings such as Oven Baked Prince Edward Oysters, one of 15 or more amazing offerings. Chef Aziz Bouras offers tempting nightly specials. From the menu is a wonderful Pesce Pazzo “Au Pernod,” a fresh fish soup with lobster, egg noodles, and garlic rouille, and a startlingly flavorful Slow Braised Indian Spiced Lamb Shank. Truffle Cake, too rich for words, and a Sexy Coffee—a rich Godiva coffee beverage flavored with Frangelico and topped with a wonderful white chocolate whipped cream—make a playfully perfect ending. After dining, step into the substantial bar to catch the pianist’s next set—and a possible appearance by Mucciga on the bongos.
    If you’ve discovered Fernando’s of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, you’ll be delighted to find that Fernando’s fine Italian food now can be had at two local restaurants, one in Ft. Myers Beach (4675 Estero Blvd., 941/463-0026) and a newer one in Ft. Myers (7381 College Parkway, 941/939-5060). Fernando’s, which has flourished for more than a decade in Martha’s Vineyard, serves up “Italian food you would get in the good restaurants in Boston or New York,” says manager Peter Wust. Among its specialty pasta dishes is Farfalle Fernando’s, a blend of shrimp, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes in a white wine and garlic sauce, served over bow-tie pasta. Tempting, too, are its many fish, veal, chicken, and beef dishes, with a variety of savory sauces and seasonings. Enhance your meal with a selection from the extensive wine list. After indulging in Canoli or Tiramisu, finish your evening with an after-dinner drink in Fernando’s adjacent lounge.
    For a casual meal and some great beer, try Dusseldorf’s on the Beach (1113 Estero Boulevard, 941/463-5251). The German pub has been serving up signature dishes to locals and tourists for years and is open from breakfast to late night. The representation of beer is truly international with selections from Scotland, Turkey, Holland, England, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, and, of course, Germany, among others. A brief tour of Germany inspired Chef Sean Iannelli to embrace the country’s cuisine. His spicy German goulash is, as he describes it, a lusty hearty beef stew infused with caraway seeds, cayenne, and smoky paprika, with fresh egg noodles. Other menu specialties available are homemade sausages served with specialty sides such as sauerkraut, red cabbage, or potato pancakes.
    For a different type of international cuisine, go to Roy’s of Bonita Springs (26831 South Bay Drive, 941/498-7697). Roy Yamaguchi opened his first restaurant in Hawaii, where he married classic French and other European techniques with Asian and Pacific influences, creating a uniquely distinctive, “Euro-Asian” cuisine. Andrew Sansone, chef partner Shannon Chandler, executive sous-chef John Stoker, and sous- chef Wade Lowe operate the Bonita restaurant to share their passion for food and personalize their own versions
of Roy’s cuisine—with, of course, Yamaguchi’s stamp of approval. The setting and Roy’s reputation—it is one of 24 restaurants that bear his name—attracts a chic, well-traveled crowd. If you want exotic, sample Mochi Tempura Gulf Shrimp with Bulls-Blood Beet Sprout Salad and Crispy Gyozh.
    For an eclectic, comfortable, yet sophisticated gathering place with fare to match, try Traders Store and Café. The popular Traders on Sanibel (1551 Periwinkle Way, 941/472-7242 for the café, 941/395-3151 for the store) already has a loyal following, and the newer store in Bonita Springs is drawing its own fans. With 17,000 square feet and an amazing 45-foot ceiling, the industrial décor is custom styled by Pilar Baker, who is operating the retail end of the business in Bonita (26501 S. Tamiami Trail, 941/949-0202). Like its Sanibel sister, it features one-of-a-kind pieces from throughout the world. Comfy couches, carved wooden doors from India, handcrafted Kurdish clay pots, and Mexican armoires fill the expanse. Under the direction of manager Tania Clements and chef Scott Sopher, the café is as unique to Bonita as its counterpart is to Sanibel. Sopher comes to Traders with an extensive background in cuisine. Most recently, he was sous-chef at the award-winning Richmond Hill Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, which explains the hint of Southern influence on the mostly Euro-Asian menu. Among the specialties is a tantalizing Mint Crusted Roast Rack of Lamb with a Green Tea Sauce. Clements, with more than 20 years of restaurant experience, has compiled an extensive wine list of more than 180 wines, 26 of which can be served by the glass.
    The choices for fine dining are plentiful and there’s no shortage of good ethnic restaurants in Southwest Florida. But if you’re looking for the tantalizing blend of accents from international cuisine, you no longer have to travel far.

Jan Campbell is a Ft. Myers-based cookbook author and catering consultant.