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Mereday's Fine Dining: Not Ready for Prime Time

Mereday's Fine Dining: Not Ready for Prime Time

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Charles Mereday, the eponymous chef of this new restaurant, hidden away (signage is almost non-existent) in the sprawling Naples Bay Resort — a hotel, condo (with boatslips), and retail complex just off the Tamiami Trail — has good credentials. He put in time at New Jersey's celebrated Ryland Inn and worked at Maison Troisgros in France, before becoming executive chef at Zanzibar Blue in Philadelphia and then owner–chef of the Old Stone Farmhouse in St. Thomas, in the U.S Virgin Islands. Based on a dinner at the place on a recent Saturday evening, though — and assuming that Mereday is more than just a hired hand here, and actually has some control over the way his restaurant functions — I'm not at all sure that he's ready for prime time.

His menu — fixed-price only — is divided into five sections, four savory, one sweet. Diners are invited to choose three, four, or five courses (at $55, $75, and $95, respectively), one of which has to be from the dessert section. The offerings, basically American with Italian, Mediterranean, and Moroccan accents, mostly sound pretty interesting. We chose Florida pink shrimp ceviche, pear ravioli with walnuts in brown butter, and seared foie gras with grilled peaches and mâche as starters; Moroccan-spiced lamb shank, Florida grouper with various vegetables, and duck confit with mushroom risotto as mains; cheese plates and one sticky toffee pudding with brown butter ice cream to finish. One of our number added another order of foie gras as an interim course, between appetizers and mains (or before appetizers).

The food wasn't bad. On the basis of flavor and presentation alone, I'd put Mereday's on a list of the top 20 restaurants in Naples, though near the bottom. The disconnect between the kitchen and the pleasant, eager-to-please wait staff, though, made it difficult to enjoy the chef's efforts on their own merits. There was
the mysterious amuse-bouche (mysterious because our waiter had no idea what it was) — a few little wisps of what turned out to be strawberry and fennel (which anyway was more perplexing than amusing). There was the very long wait for appetizers: At one point, it looked as if a couple of servers were headed our way with our first courses, but the chef called them back to his open kitchen. At another point, a martini glass filled with what turned out to be the ceviche appeared on the service counter, where we watched it sit, forlornly, waiting for its companions, for at least 15 minutes. (Fortunately, the heat lamp overhead wasn't turned on.)

There was the restaurant's apparent shortage of flatware: When it finally reached our table, along with the other appetizers, the ceviche was served with a large dinner fork — not exactly the ideal implement with which to address finely chopped shrimp in a cone-bottomed vessel designed to hold gin and vermouth; and before the ravioli was set down, our server asked "Are you going to need a knife with that?" (Uh, I don't know, am I?)

There was the very long wait for main courses — did I mention that the restaurant was, at most, a quarter full, leading one to wonder how on earth they'd manage if they actually packed the place? — and the fact that the duck confit with mushroom risotto had somehow turned into shrimp and grits. Oh, and the math involved in figuring out how to serve an extra course to one diner was apparently beyond the capabilities of the either wait staff or kitchen, even after I reminded our waiter about the extra foie gras between courses. It simply never appeared. By the time we figured out that it wasn't coming, we really didn't care.

We didn't wait for our cheese plates and sticky toffee pudding. We didn't have another hour to spare. When we decided to cut our losses (and cut the evening short) and asked for the check, we finally aroused the attention of a tall gentleman with an accent who may have been the manager. He had spent most of the time we were there standing behind the bar talking with a couple of customers, who I'm sure got their drinks on time.

44 Valentine's Day Recipes For Food Lovers

So you managed to snag a Valentine. Do you know what you're going to feed your sweetheart? If you are looking for the ultimate romantic recipes you've come to the right place. Below you'll find 44 of our best Valentine's Day recipes that'll set hearts aflutter. So grab your favorite bottle of wine, some candles and get ready to make Cupid proud.

Is your Valentine a morning person? Surprise them with breakfast in bed. Here are five tempting recipes you can prepare.

Pasta with shaved white truffles from Alba, potato gnocchi and cheese fondue. these are just some of the amazing pasta recipes that await your Valentine.

Duck breast in pomegranate sauce, saffron and gold leaf risotto. these are recipes designed to impress. Try them tonight!

Cooking for two can be challenging but not with these easy but delicious romantic recipes like mini pizzas and white chocolate mousse tartlets.

Spoil your Valentine with alluring Tuscan recipes like roasted Renaissance pheasant, Tuscan tomato soup and sweet and crispy biscuits.

These adorable heart-shaped desserts will put a smile on anyone's face. especially if they are accompanied by a lovely handwritten note.

Not only is chocolate an aphrosiac but it is a known mood lifter. Keep that in mind when you prepare these tempting chocolate treats.

Do your sweetie love cupcakes? Prepare homemade cupcakes in exotic flavors like rose and lychee, star anise and chilies. They are guaranteed to impress.

Treat your Amore to irrestible Italian treats like panna cotta ice cream, warm tiramisu and espresso with ice cream. the perfect way to seal the deal.

Column: Trojans aren’t ready for Crimson Tide, prime time or much of anything

Bill Plaschke, Zach Helfand and Lindsey Thiry discuss Alabama’s 52-6 victory over USC at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

It was the first game of the season, the most celebrated game in several seasons, and the USC football team was not ready.

How could they not be ready?

It was heralded as the beginning of a new era, the start of a new chapter, and USC acted like it was still on stinking probation.

How could a traditional national power take the national stage looking like … this?

The USC football team was many things in its 52-6 loss to top-ranked Alabama on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium. But there was one thing it was not, one thing that will be sure to upset the thousands of USC fans who joyfully and hopefully traveled here, one thing everyone had counted on seeing from this new look of a Clay Helton-coached team.

The Trojans were not Trojans. They were not the program that once had the discipline to create a dynasty. They were not Alabama, and that’s fine, because Alabama has won four national titles in seven years. But, seriously, they were not even within six touchdowns of Alabama in a game that wasn’t that close.

“Cold hard truth is we didn’t play up to ours,” Helton said of the Trojans’ potential.

Cold hard truth, they didn’t show up, and how could they not show up?

They were recklessly undisciplined. Jabari Ruffin stomped Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick directly in the crotch and got tossed out of the game.

They were distracted. Iman Marshall quit on a play and allowed ArDarius Stewart to race freely for a 39-yard touchdown pass.

They were outsmarted. Marshall and teammate Chris Hawkins both blitzed and left Stewart wide open to race downfield in completing a 71-yard touchdown pass.

They were sloppy. Chris Tilbey, the Trojans punter, dropped a snap and fell helplessly on the ball.

They were flimsy. Damien Harris ran through, and away from, the entire USC defense for 71 yards to set up another touchdown run.

They were disorganized. Helton called all three of his first-half timeouts in the first quarter, including two in seven seconds.

Finally, perhaps most painfully, they were willfully embarrassed by their former coach. Lane Kiffin, the deposed Trojans boss who runs the Alabama offense, poured it on, and on, and on. Everyone saw this coming, but it was even uglier than expected, Kiffin’s revenge even more painful than imagined.

Early in the fourth quarter, on fourth down with Alabama leading by 32 points, Kiffin ordered the Tide to go for a touchdown, and they responded with a two-yard scoring run by Bo Scarbrough.

Later in the fourth quarter, with the Tide leading by 39, Kiffin ordered a deep pass, and the Tide responded with a 45-yard scoring strike from Blake Barnett to Gehrig Dieter.

That made it 52-6, and even blanketed in his oversized white windbreaker and hidden behind his giant play card, a hopping Kiffin could not disguise his glee.

And yet Alabama felt it still could have played better, and it surely can. The Crimson Tide didn’t put on a national-title performance, but that wasn’t required. USC was so awful, Alabama mostly just needed to show up, and it did.

The Trojans’ night was best summed up in the words of the great Samuel L. Jackson, who issued the game’s defining tweet at its defining moment.

“I’m getting the feeling USC might be all but physically on the plane home,” Jackson tweeted … before halftime.

The Trojans were beaten to a pulp, and it wasn’t fiction.

“I think we are just disappointed that we didn’t go out there and play our best ball,’’ said new quarterback Max Browne. “There’s a reason they are the defending national champs.’’

But there is no reason that USC did not compete. The Trojans actually looked decent in the beginning, and their first two drives netted 90 yards, and they celebrated after every good play. But after every celebration, it seemed the Tide calmly punched them in the mouth.

In their ensuing 14 drives, they gained 104 yards total. After starting out completing his first seven passes, Browne completed only seven of his next 22 and wound up with 101 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown after the ball bounced off the hands of receiver Deontay Burnett.

“As Coach Helton said in the locker room, one game doesn’t define us,” Adoree’ Jackson said.

But for Helton, it’s about more than one game. Not that his honeymoon is over, but his cheering section currently resembles the USC section in the fourth quarter Saturday — stunningly empty.

Last season Helton was 5-2 as the interim coach, and this columnist lobbied hard for his full-time hiring, which was announced shortly before the Pac-12 championship game. But since then, as a permanent head coach, he is winless at 0-3, and has been outscored 116-49 in those games.

“I felt preparation-wise we had come into the game ready,” Helton said. “That’s on me.’’

Three tough games, and a small sample size, but still, expectations are high and Helton must meet them. Helton must not only deal with the increased volume from his chorus of skeptics, but also new questions about how the USC program is dealing with the off-the-field incidents.

USC’s Adoree’ Jackson gets in a minor scuffle with Alabama players during their season-opening game Saturday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Lou Pickney, “Humphrey has a background in track, and that experience will likely help him on his pro day and at the NFL Combine. Humphrey could potentially find himself as one of the first defensive backs to be taken.”

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

USC’s Iman Marshall intercepts a pass intended for Alabama receiver ArDarius Stewart in the third quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett loses his mouth piece as he is hit by USC’s Marvell Tell III during the fourth quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin talks to his players during the season opener against USC.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

USC running back Ronald Jones II almost loses the ball after a fumbled exchange in the third quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts scores a touchdown against the USC defense during the third quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama’s O.J. Howard is tackled by USC’s Matt Lopes after a big gain in the third quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

USC quarterback Max Browne picks up big yards against the Alabama defense in the first quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama receiver ArDarius Stewart catches a touchdown pass against USC in the first half Saturday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Trojans linebackers Osa Mosina and Don Hill both missed the game because of pending sexual assault allegations. Yet they have been practicing with the team through training camp even though Utah police informed USC’s Department of Public Safety of the allegations on Aug, 2.

Why weren’t both players suspended immediately? Why did one player, Hill, even make the trip to Dallas before being sent home?

That’s just one of many issues dogging the Trojans as they head into the rest of their season with one loss that, even by 46 points, feels like something much bigger.

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Southwest Florida Forks

is the initial restaurant on the grounds of Babcock Ranch, the first planned solar powered community in the US. I had Posted about Babcock Ranch and Table and Tap before. For those interested in the community per se please go to the Babcock Ranch Link. TT has been open for about 15 months and for the past 6, has had a new Executive Chef, Richard Howze. Richard has close to 30 years of culinary experience, is an excellent chef and has completely transformed the Menu and price points at TT under his direction.

Outdoor dining, Table and Tap
The restaurant has an attractive interior dining area, in addition to some very pleasant outdoor seating with nice views of the water on the property.

The first thing ordered was the pate and pork rinds.

DC is a big mac n' cheese fan, I am not. We agreed to sample this, and I must say I could easily become a convert after TT's take on this.

We unknowingly saved the best for last, ordering the pulled pork sandwich.

New restaurants refresh existing spaces

Buy Photo

Charles Mereday will open his third restaurant, Mereday’s Brasserie at Coconut Point Mall in Estero, on Wednesday. (Photo: Photos by YVONNE AYALA McCLELLAN/THE NEWS-PRESS) Buy Photo

Restaurateur and chef Charles Mereday has shaped his business around seeking out second generation restaurant spaces in different markets, and filling them with new restaurants.

In fact, it's the name of his company, 2nd Generation Hospitality, under which he's already opened two restaurants. The real estate term describes vacant restaurant space that has had one owner, and is a sought after commodity for many restaurant developers looking for a lower investment cost and seeking a quicker return on their investment.

"We are turning around a cash flow business in less than a year, which is how we're continuing to grow and open up new businesses," he said.

Mereday opened his first Southwest Florida restaurant, Mereday's Fine Dining, in Naples in July 2013, followed it up with Alto Jazz Live Kitchen in February and will be opening Mereday's Brasserie at Coconut Point Mall on Wednesday.

A view of the dining room prior to any renovation work at Mereday’s Brasserie at Coconut Point Mall in Estero. (Photo: YVONNE AYALA McCLELLAN/THE NEWS-PRESS )

"It's really optimal for any restaurateur to try to come and backfill something that was already a restaurant," said Karen Johnson Crowther, principal and director of retail services for Colliers International SW Florida.

Usually those spaces have ample parking, the infrastructure of existing grease traps, and a hood and fire suppression system. It meets requirements for plumbing and restroom facilities and likely has good visibility as well, Johnson Crowther said.

As the economy has improved, it's become more difficult to find second or third generation restaurant spaces in Southwest Florida, and is part of what has fueled 2nd Generation Hospitality's rapid growth with three restaurants in less than two years.

"Hertz is coming to Estero, and that's big," he said. "There's a lot of growth in this market and finding second generation space is becoming more difficult."

Many get snatched up quickly, such as the Smokey Bones Building near Daniels Parkway off U.S. 41 which became a Big Al's Sports Grill and is now making way for another restaurant concept, Johnson Crowther said.

"Having a grease trap, hood system and the plumbing already in place saves you a significant amount of money," she said.

Renovating a restaurant – or building a new one – can range from about $500,000 to $1.5 million depending on the size of the building and scope of work, said Grant Phelan, director of operations for Naples-based Pinchers Crab Shack.

Pinchers is expanding in the Tampa area, but also recently completed a complete overhaul for its restaurant at the Marina at Edison Ford.

A view of the bar prior to renovation work at Mereday’s Brasserie in Fort Myers. (Photo: YVONNE AYALA McCLELLAN/THE NEWS-PRESS )

"Just the hood alone can range from $30,000 to $50,000, so if it's already there… it saves us a tremendous amount of time, which is essential," he said.

The current Pinchers project in Tampa had previously been a nightclub, unlike the company's first Tampa restaurant, which had already operated as a restaurant and had much of the infrastructure in place, he said.

"We try and find locations that you can put the least amount of money in and try to open," Phelan said. "You can't just go in and reopen anything exactly the way it was or you might diminish your brand."

He calls it "Pincherizing," where they recreate the interior décor and install a new kitchen equipment package similar or exactly the same as what you would find at an existing Pinchers. It makes it easier to train employees moving from one restaurant location to another, Phelan said.

He plans on hiring extra staff for the existing Tampa location, giving them an opportunity to learn the equipment and operation, before they move into his newest Tampa location which is set to open in January.When you can find vacant restaurant spaces that also have the furniture, fixtures and equipment, it's an even more attractive opportunity.

That's what Mereday found at Coconut Point, for his latest venture Mereday's Brasserie, which is opening in the space next to Bice Grand Café and was formerly home to The Grill Room. The unit had existing tables and chairs, booths with no wear and tear, and a full set of kitchen equipment.

While he is making some improvements to the property such as updating the air conditioning system, cleaning and maintaining existing equipment and updating some portions of the flooring, the space was mostly ready.

"Why would you come in here and almost gut it?" Mereday asked of his newest venture. "That seems almost wasteful."

Since many of the restaurants already have a shape, design and form to them, Mereday lets the location and the vibe of the space form what kind of concept he'll develop.

Unlike Mereday's Fine Dining, the brasserie will have lower prices and will attract maybe those who are familiar with his brands and food, as well as those who aren't. His fine dining restaurant is smaller, near the downtown area of Naples in an affluent community.

"As opposed to like a bistro in Paris that would generally be for a family with very, very casual service usually located in a neighborhood where people go every day, this is considered to be a step above that, where people may not go every day, but for a night out," he said.

Most customers who dine at Mereday's Fine Dining are seeking an experience, know about his brand and know who he is and what the restaurant is about before they dine there, Mereday said.

It can be challenging to retrofit an existing space, such as taking what had been a Mexican restaurant and adapting it to become a seafood restaurant or a trendy tapas bar, Johnson Crowther said.

"The atmosphere needs to lend itself to the concept," she said. "If the concept fits the motif, or what the previous owner did inside, then it makes sense. You're not going to take something at Coconut Point and make it a diner."

Fine Dining in San Francisco Is Now Available in Your Own Kitchen

It was a cool evening in June. I popped downstairs to the foyer of my apartment building, where a fellow in a face mask and gloves stood carrying a large bag of food in to-go containers. We politely greeted one another, and he replied, “Thanks so much for supporting us!” I peeked over the stairway ledge and saw a woman standing below next to a blue Nissan she waved enthusiastically at me. On the way back to my apartment, I quickly Venmo’d $20 to an account called @sfchefshuffle.

My boyfriend and I stood over our kitchen island reading the printed menu and directions for the evening’s feast: “A Southern Indian Delight: A Taste of Pundi Curry featuring Roast Pork by Chef Nupoor Kapse.” The dish is one of Kodava/Coorgi origin, according to Kapse. Above the directions, she explains, “They’re a warrior clan and would typically hunt for wild boar and make this dish as a curry flavored with dark roasted spices and seasoned with black vinegar.” Our mouths were already watering.

Kapse is a veteran of several fine-dining restaurants, including State Bird Provisions. She also happened to be the woman standing by the blue Nissan that night. She and State Bird Provisions had to pivot quickly after San Francisco issued a mandatory stay-at-home order on March 16 due to Covid-19. No one was prepared for it nor were they ready for the subsequent extensions of said order. According to Yelp, more than 5,000 businesses have closed since the pandemic started 2,000 of them have closed permanently — 300 of which were restaurants.

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The components of our dinner were neatly packed into assorted plastic containers, including our rum cocktail, the Baba O’ Fashioned. The directions to assemble our dinner were straightforward: Microwave the rice and curry for a few minutes reheat the pork by searing in a medium-high pan with a little oil. For the cocktail, we simply stirred, poured over ice, and topped with the provided garnish of orange peel. The dessert was a delightful surprise. Ras malai is a cheese-curd puck flavored with saffron and cardamom from the east coast of India in Bengal. We even broke out our tweezers and Heath plates to give the dish the attention it deserved. The texture was that of a dense ricotta cheese and tasted of rose water, spices, and citrus. We were so thrilled to have a restaurant experience from the comfort and safety of our own home during the shelter-in-place order.

I spoke with Kapse about her time during the shelter-in-place order and how she’s managing. “As of August, there’s definitely a looming sense of ‘what next?’” she says. “But [I’m] also happy to have cooked my way through the pandemic at home, trying out all the various projects and recipes that I wasn’t afforded the time to do earlier.”

I spoke to Devin Hakola, the founder of SF Chef Shuffle, the pop-up delivery concept designed to feature a different furloughed chef every week. The chefs hail from some of the best fine-dining institutions in San Francisco. Hakola formerly cooked at The Progress, State Bird Provisions, and Barbarossa. He said the goal is twofold: pay the rotating chefs what he can, and the chefs get the opportunity to cook their own food, not someone else’s. Doing a pop-up where the menu — let alone the chef — changes every week isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a little crazy. “I can’t just chill and wait for next year. … I hustle every week to try not to only cook the best food I can but also sell, graphic-design, deliver, and wash dishes. Whatever needs to get done,” said Hakola.

After speaking to Hakola, I got a sense of what it takes to produce this pop-up without the use of a commercial kitchen. First, the menu-writing takes place on Monday morning. After the menu is set, Hakola designs a custom graphic and posts it to Instagram to get the 1,100 followers excited about the new menu for Sunday. Throughout the week, he’s collecting orders via Instagram messages and payments on their Square site. Then, it’s time for the testing and tasting for deliciousness and transportability.

Could this be the future of fine dining? One that is done from humble apartment kitchens instead of state-of-the-art restaurants?

Saturday arrives. Hakola and the featured chef head to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where they purchase produce for the all-day prep in a designated home kitchen ahead of their Sunday delivery. Generally, they plan on making a maximum of 40 orders Hakola says they’ve sold out almost every week they’ve been operating. Even without a standard commercial kitchen, the team keeps the highest level of cleanliness possible. All food is then packed, labeled, and bagged for transportation along a designated route all across the city. We typically order two servings ($40 each) plus two cocktails (which are $10 a pop). This brings our total to about $120 bucks with a tip — incredibly reasonable given the quality of ingredients and creativity.

Who were some of the other chefs featured in this new venture? Well, there was chef Spencer Horovitz, formerly of Al’s Place and The Progress. Horovitz has been featured in the lineup several times. He dreamed up an Israeli-themed dinner featuring grilled chicken with yogurt sauce, schmaltz rice pilaf, spring bean and puffed rice salad, and tahini brownies with strawberries. Recently, chef couple Sarah Whitman and Michael Andreatta (formerly of The Commonwealth and Fort Point Beer) were also featured. Together they created an Eastern European homage featuring Mount Tam pierogis, mushroom puffs, cucumber and beet salad, roasted paprika pork belly, and plum cake.

Could this be the future of fine dining? One that is done from humble apartment kitchens instead of state-of-the-art restaurants? During a recent AMA on Instagram Stories, a follower asked San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho about the trend of home cooking during the pandemic. She sounded excited about the prospect: “Some of the most original and exciting meals that I’ve been able to eat during the pandemic have been made by people who can’t access commercial kitchens by traditional means.” She tagged @brokeasscooks, a pop-up and catering business that started grilling jerk chicken in their West Oakland backyard.

The Broke Ass Cooks trio is Bilal Ali, Hoang Le, and Keone Koki, all of whom lost their jobs as a result of restaurants closing during the pandemic. “There’s no jobs for the foreseeable future, so we were like, yeah, we’re broke and we don’t really have a choice right now,” said Ali to SFGate, “we have to make something for ourselves.”

Where do we go from here? Since March, many of San Francisco’s fine-dining institutions have either closed or have pivoted to other forms of food service, almost all toward a fast-casual or takeout model, with few locations able to do outdoor dining. Take two-Michelin-starred Lazy Bear. Their normally wildly creative tasting menu has switched to a “commissary” format, serving up food like chicken biscuits and cinnamon rolls and prepared foods like fresh pasta, duck confit, and cold brew coffee. A dry-aged beef smash burger with the works costs $15 compare that to their regular dinner tickets, which cost $165–$195.

Celebrity Chef Art Smith plans to open Naples restaurant

Oprah's former personal chef will bring his celebrity status to a Naples restaurant set to launch in early 2016.

Chef Art Smith, 55, is taking over the Naples Bay Resort space vacated at the end of July by Mereday's Fine Dining. Smith, who has won two James Beard Foundation awards and appeared on "Top Chef," was personal chef to Oprah Winfrey for a decade until 2007 and was a frequent guest on her TV show.

The name of Smith's new local dining spot has yet to be announced. A feature on the chef in an Orlando Weekly blog a few weeks ago reported that the new Southern restaurant with an Italian accent will be named Naples Y'all and Si Bar by Chef Art Smith, but that will not be its name, said Laura Phillips Bennett, spokeswoman for Naples Bay Resort.

"There have been lots of meetings since and we've come to a new name," Bennett said, though noting that "by Art Smith" will be part of the restaurant's name.

"Though I have worked for celebrities, elected officials from both sides of the aisle and many others, there is nothing like coming back to Florida," said Smith, who is a sixth-generation Floridian and a Florida State graduate.

Smith, who formerly worked for Florida governors Bob Graham and Jeb Bush, made a Naples connection 10 years ago when he cooked for former first lady Barbara Bush and the authors at a Celebration of Reading event here. The chef had an especially delicious moment with his 12-layer chocolate cake.

"It was such a hit at the event. He said he was going to work this into a future restaurant," said Bennett, although Smith didn't know at the time that the restaurant would be in Naples.

During that visit a decade ago, local businessman Fred Pezeshkan took note of Smith and knew they would be doing business together in the future. Pezeshkan, CEO and chairman of Manhattan Construction Florida &mdash formerly Kraft Construction &mdash started a new company, Sojourn Management, to run the 20-acre Naples Bay Resort along U.S. 41 East. Sojourn tapped Douglas Rucker as general manager and Smith to oversee the entire food and beverage operation at the resort.

In addition to the restaurant, Smith will be in charge of the resort's catering and room service. He is now interviewing the chef de cuisine for his restaurant, where he already is committed to personally hosting local charity events.

Although Smith was not available for an interview Thursday, he refers to a garden-to-kitchen approach to culinary options on his Naples menu, according to a news release from the resort.

"I will be pairing Southern American food with what I just saw in Milan at the World's Fair. Italian families understand the love and power of food, so the pairing is perfect," Smith is quoted as saying. "For Naples' sophisticated diners, this will definitely be a one-of-a-kind menu with a lot of surprises."

Smith will be at Naples Bay Resort periodically in November and December, and will host tasting sessions of his menu in December, Bennett said.

Smith's resort restaurant will be the fourth to occupy that scenic spot steps away from boats docked on the bay. Besides Mereday's Fine Dining, the space was previously home to L'Orient and originally Olio restaurant when the resort opened in 2008.

In addition to Smith's restaurant, a gourmet coffee shop will be opening in a former ice cream store at the resort during the first quarter of next year. Catalina Café will be operated by a young couple who grinds their own coffee beans, Bennett said.

Chef Smith also recently announced that he will be opening a restaurant, Homecoming, at Walt Disney World's Disney Springs next summer. He already is executive chef and co-owner of Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar in Atlanta, and Art and Soul in Washington, D.C.

About Tim Aten

Tim Aten, a Naples Daily News journalist since 1998, has written the newspaper&rsquos popular &ldquoIn the Know&rdquo column for more than 10 years. He previously was news editor and chief online editor for the Daily News. Before relocating to Naples, Tim was a managing editor of newspapers in the Florida Keys for 6 years. He and his wife of 25 years located to Florida in 1992 from Northeast Ohio, where he began his journalism career 30 years ago.

Fancy restaurants require you to have napkin know-how

Admittedly, there are some pretty creative things you can do with a napkin, from wrapping gifts to creating a stylish bandana for your dog. That said, at a fancy restaurant, napkins are for one thing only: dabbing your mouth. As made clear in Listverse's "Top 10 Rules for Fine Dining," "Never wipe your mouth with a napkin, you should always dab." And no matter how discrete you are, don't even think about placing, or spitting, a bone, pit, piece of fat, or anything else into your napkin.

Once you're down with what to do with your napkin, you need to know where to keep it. Upon first sitting down, you should almost immediately unfold that impeccably, perhaps swan- or boat-shaped, cloth napkin and place it on your knees. According to the Etiquette Scholar, unfolding must be done in a single, "smooth" motion. Tucking it into the front of your shirt or into your pants is never acceptable.

During your meal, if you have to get up, you should carefully place your napkin on your seat. If between dabs, your napkin flutters to the floor, as Listverse notes, it's "acceptable" to pick it up yourself unless there's a server nearby who can remove "the fallen napkin" and replace it with an immaculate one. Once you've made it through the entire meal, you can finish up by placing your napkin (but not folding it!) to the left of your plate (never on your plate!).

For many travelers to the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento peninsula, no visit is complete without a meal at Don Alfonso 1890. Run by the Iaccarino family, the Michelin-starred restaurant in the hilltop village of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi has for decades been treating diners to elevated—but still authentic—regional cuisine crafted using high-quality ingredients, many sourced from the family’s nearby organic farm. With husband and wife Alfonso and Livia (who founded this incarnation of the restaurant in 1973) welcoming and chatting with guests, their son Mario serving as restaurateur and son Ernesto working his magic in the kitchen, a meal here is also a family affair—with guests quickly feeling like part of the fold.

It’s this family atmosphere that the Iaccarinos want to export to America with the opening of their first US venture. While their consulting arm has previously opened Don Alfonso outposts in destinations like Macau, New Zealand and Canada, those restaurants were more in line with the original location’s fine dining focus. But Casa Don Alfonso—which is set to open at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis in late-February 2021—will be a “casual interpretation of what we do in Sant’Agata,” says Mario Iaccarino, who has spearheaded the development of the project. An open kitchen, photos of the Iaccarinos, hand-painted Italian ceramic tiles and a color palette inspired by the lavender fields of Sant’Agata will help set that scene.

We chatted with Iaccarino about how the first US Don Alfonso came about, the culinary connections between Italy and the States, and how Casa Don Alfonso’s menu will reflect “the real recipes of the grandmothers.”

Having had the pleasure of dining at Don Alfonso 1890, it was exciting to hear that you will be opening in the US. How did the project come about?

We have been in the consulting business for about 25 years, and have done a few projects around the world during that time. Opening in another location is always the best way to learn about a culture—and every time we do it, we get as much out of the experience as we give. But we aren’t the ones who first select where to go it happens based on interest, and people approach us. This idea came about a couple of years ago, when a friend of the owners of the new The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis dined with us in Italy, and then suggested us to the hotel owners.

Why did you feel like this would be a good fit—and that St. Louis should be the location for your first US restaurant?

I decided to go to St. Louis for the meeting and, honestly, from the first moment I arrived at the hotel, I felt at home. They operate with a very similar attitude as what we have at Don Alfonso, and reflect the same ideas. The hotel’s General Manager, Amanda Joiner, and her team operate the hotel like a family, and from the first moment, I had had the feeling that I was entering into a family. That’s why I felt that we had to do something there. It may sound strange, but I have rarely found myself in such a familiar place as The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis! For me, it’s also been interesting to get to know a Midwestern city, which has a different culture than what you find on the east and west coasts. People are so friendly—I really enjoy visiting there, and when I leave, I leave with sadness.

How will Casa Don Alfonso be different from the fine dining you’re known for?

In Italy, we do fine dining, but we are still a family, and we never take ourselves too seriously. Casa Don Alfonso will represent that in a more casual way. Especially now, with everything we are all living through, the goal of restaurants should be to let people relax—to be a place of lightness and happiness. People are tired, and we want to go to restaurants to enjoy the experience, not to be scared of the waiter or maître d’! We started working on this a long time before COVID-19, but with a little bit of courage, I think this could actually be the right moment for this type of project. When people are ready to enjoy again, we will be ready for them.

Italian cuisine is obviously so popular in the US, and has deep roots here. How do you see Casa Don Alfonso fitting in to that landscape?

There is, of course, a huge Italian community in the US, and my own family is part of that, as most of my mother’s family lives between New York and New Jersey. I feel that the connection between the two countries is one of the strongest in the world, and Italian cuisine is a big part of that—the appreciation of Italian cuisine in the US is a historic one. It brings together generations of families that are so strongly attached to their traditions, sometimes even more so than those of us in Italy. I have memories of being at my aunt’s house in New Jersey and spending 48-hours eating authentic Neapolitan cuisine! With its focus on authentic family dishes, Casa Don Alfonso will fit into that celebration of tradition.

Tell us how you developed the menu?

We have been working on this project for about one-and-a-half years, and during that time have been doing a deep dive into Neapolitan culture to develop our recipes. Because the sea is a protagonist in Naples and the Campagna region, we are a mix of different cultures and have had culinary influences from places like the Middle East and Far East, seen through ingredients like pepperoncini and olive oil. At Casa Don Alfonso we will eat things that draw from that history.

We will also celebrate a world that doesn’t exist much anymore, through the real recipes of grandmothers, done in the traditional—but also a simple and healthy—way. The recipes of many of the region’s well-known dishes have changed over the years, but we will present the 100-percent original versions. These are the kinds of dishes I would eat when I went to my grandmother’s for Sunday lunch.

What are some examples of that?

We have a lasagna on the menu, which is a dish everyone knows, but this will be the original version of a Neapolitan lasagna. In this interpretation, there is no Bolognese, no Bechamel sauce, no chopped meat. Instead, we use big pieces of meat that we cook slowly with red wine, carrots, celery and bay leaves, for about five hours, then softly slice and add to the lasagna with ricotta. We also use hard boiled eggs—which is the sign that this is coming from a real Neapolitan grandmother!

We will also have dishes like Acqua Pazza fish, Campagna-style macaroni gratin, pizzas with an organic sourdough base, and fritto misto done the way you would find on the streets of Naples. My father opened Don Alfonso 1890 in 1973, and I can say that the Casa Don Alfonso menu reflects the exact culinary concept of that original restaurant’s first 15 years, with a focus on all the simple things that are a part of our tradition.

Will you be bringing ingredients over from Italy, or sourcing them locally?

The main, key ingredients will be shipped from Italy, from a selected a group of small makers. We’ll be using the same dried spaghetti—made by a small producer—as we do at Don Alfonso, and the same tomato sauce and extra virgin olive oil. For other products, including some fresh ones, we’ve identified some great distributors, but we also want to be respectful of local producers—so If we find a special apple from Missouri, maybe we’ll use it in a desert pizza, mixed with cinnamon. It will be a menu that respects the local seasonality. Many of the wines will come from Italy, of course, and we just got the okay to import the limoncello we make using lemons from our farm—so that will be another taste of Sant’Agata in St. Louis.

How to Clean Branzino?

Rinse the fish with cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Lay the fish on a cutting board. Using a pair of Chef's knife, scrape off the scales using an upward motion Make sure both sides of the Branzino fish is properly scaled and cleaned off. Do not miss the sides of the fish.

How to Cut Whole Branzino to Branzino Filet?

Position the Chef's knife horizontal. Start at the tail and slice into the flesh. Make sure you get as close to the bone as possible, to get the most filet out of the whole fish. Slice in an upward motion and cut off the filet off the body. Repeat the same on the other side of the fish. Leave out the stomach and head section. Make sure you slice off as much flesh as possible.

Cut the Branzino filet into smaller bite-sized pieces.

In a container, mix together all the ingredients in Marinade. Stir to mix well. Transfer the Branzino filet into the Marinade, make sure both sides are nicely coated with the Marinade. Cover the container and let marinate in the fridge for 2 hours or best overnight.

How to Grill Branzino?

You can grill the fish filet with an outdoor grill or pan grill using a skillet. Heat up a skillet on medium heat with 1 tablespoon cooking oil. Transfer the fish filet with skin side down. Pan grill and cook the fish until the skin turns crispy, about 1 minute. Turn over gently and cook the other side until the fish filet is cooked through and slightly browned and charred.

Transfer the fish out gently and let cool on the plate. To smoke the fish, heat up a stovetop smoker with 1 tablespoon of wood chips, Place the fish let on on a sheet of aluminum foil and cover the lid.

Turn on medium-low heat and smoke for 5 minutes. Remove the smoker from heat and let the fish smoke for another 5 minutes.

Transfer the Branzino fish out and serve immediately with some micro greens and Japanese salmon roes (ikura).

Watch the video: Naples Originals Im an Original 1 (August 2022).