Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bleu Provence Restaurant French Cuisine in Naples

Jacques and Lysielle Cariot opened Bleu Provence in 1999, a block from the city Dock, and have gradually expanded the restaurant’s size, without compromising its character.

Bleu Provence has a year round special “Decouverte” discount menu from 5-6 pm that draws in the crowds, in the otherwise hard to fill Happy Hour time. For $21.95, you get a choice of one item from the soup, salad and appetizer page (Column A), then one Main dish (Column B) , and a glass of house red or white wine. It’s easy to tell, the select items are marked with an Eiffel Tower!

You enter Bleu Provence via the tranquil side porch setting around the left as you face the front- best enjoyed in season’s coolness, however I’ll take it just fine in the summer’s heat with a short sleeve shirt, and an overhead fan, to avoid the crowds. The building’s exterior is a washed light blue and white tropical quaint look, with areca palms enclosing the side patio, and lazy fans stirring the air. Side Entrance
. The interior continues this color scheme, with washed blue walls and white wainscoting, white linen tablecloths and dark blue napkins.
“Column A” includes a choice of: Provençal Fish Soup with Rouille and Croutons, French Onion Soup, Various Salads, Traditional Escargot in parsley butter, Smoked Salmon, and Pan-Grilled Mussels.

We chose the Tomato Salad with Marinated Goat Cheese, Basil, and Virgin Olive oil, with a light vinaigrette drizzled over the basil pesto topped tomato slices. Fresh, clean tastes-great way to start!
Then a bowlful of Pan-Grilled Mussels with olive oil, Garlic and Parsley. The mussels were plump, as tender as could be. We had Cabernet Sauvignon, with good tannins, and a nice finish, to go with our main dishes, certainly a cut above may house wines. Our waiter, François, was very helpful, and at several times, owner Jacques delivered dishes, to keep service just right. The Swordfish Special had a ~5 ounce tender filet served atop a grilled eggplant slice, with roasted vegetables, asparagus spears, and green and black olives. The flavor was enhanced by fennel, onions, olive oil and Provencal spices.
The Provençal Beef Daube, cooked in Red Wine Sauce, served with Mashed Potatoes, had generous hunks of cubed, braised beef. Rather than being a thick rich Provençal stew, as in many restaurants I’ve sampled, where a spoon would almost stand up, this had a more watery or soup like rich broth surrounding the mound of beef, sliced carrots and translucent onions. Just another tasty variation to sample. The mashed potatoes had a bit of French Emmenthaler cheese mixed with the potatoes, a welcome, gooey touch.
The portions, served hot, were sufficient to fill us, and we had to try a dessert! Though dessert is not on the special menu price, we looked over Warm Chocolate Cake ($9.50), Crème Brulee (7.50), Tarte Tatin (8.50), 3 scoops of Sorbet (7.50), Crèpe Suzette au Grand Marnier (8.50), and Cherry Soup with Vanilla Ice Cream (6.50). We chose the Tarte Tartin, and while it was tasty with its slightly firm apple wedges coated with a touch of honey and lavender, it lacked the traditional thick caramel topping we anticipated. The honey-lavender ice cream is a treat.

A little history... The Tarte Tatin was accidentally created at the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France in 1889, and is known as La tarte des Demoiselles Tatin, or the Tatin Spinsters' Apple Tart. Stéphanie, sister of Caroline Tatin, is said to have forgotten to put the pastry in the skillet first, before adding the apple quarters to caramelize, so she topped the mistake with pastry and served to accolades, and the rest is history!
When the tatin is traditionally baked, unlike the Bleu Provence creation, the apples (Gala ,Golden Delicious or the like) are first caramelized with butter and sugar in a skillet for about 20”, a crust added on top and baked in an oven till crust is browned. Then the skillet is inverted, and the dessert is served with thick caramel side on top. Oh, well, call it by another name, just not tarte tatin, or add the true thick caramel-either way, and we’re happy!

The side porchWhile my French friends note that their favorite classical French restaurant in South Florida, let alone Naples, is Escargot 41, (which never has Happy Hour specials, alas), Bleu Provence is tasty, and hard to beat for these wonderful year round specials-and the Provençal food is just as enjoyable after 6 pm, as well.

Bleu Provence 1234 8th St S Naples, FL (239) 261-8239

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