Saturday, April 18, 2009

Charlie Chiang's Naples Review

Charlie Chiang’s, a favorite Asian Restaurant in Naples, just keeps growing in popularity since its 2005 opening. Dining on fresh food, served inside or on the riverside patio, is an absolute pleasure. The chefs come direct from China, preparing traditional Chinese styles or Asian fusion, that is as tasty as it is pretty. One vegetarian friend from Washington DC said the Steamed Mixed Vegetables and Tofu is “one of the best dishes I’ve had in any restaurant.”

In just the last month, I met two different groups of friends at Charlie Chiang’s, each time at their request. Charlie Chiang’s is hidden along US 41, about ½ mile north of Immokalee on the right, or east side, if heading north. It’s in the Doubletree Guest Suites, just before you go over a small bridge and river. If you’ve gone more than 0.8 miles or so north of Immokalee, or crossed over water, turn around! Better signage is needed for first timers. There’s ample parking.

Inside, the popular sushi bar is on the left, booth seats on the right, and the gently rippled walls behind the booths get smiles from many first time visitors.
Ahead is the main dining area, with the wide expanse of river at the back of the property. Savor the architecture and warm colors-these are elegant designer Christiana Chiang's selections. If you see a stunning and quite friendly Asian woman, walking or greeting you, that’s Mrs. Chiang! Say hi, and make a new friend. Charlie is often nearby, his hobby is golfing. This is a Mom and Pop style restaurant. The staff adores Mrs Chiang’s humor, kindness and warmth. The Chiangs go above and beyond in helping their staff get ahead, or out of a jam-the Chiangs treat all like family. I prefer to visit at the end of the lunch crowd, and before sunset, to watch the evening’s colors, while seated on the patio, overlooking the river and its leaping fish. People stand up to best view the pair of eagles that perch nearby. They, or an osprey may select their fresh fish from the river. Sometimes a kingfisher will hover, helicopter like, then dive for its dinner. My more recent hungry sextet were happy campers by the end of our recent celebration dinner. The Ultimate French Cosmo ($9) is generous sized fresh drink. Others were very happy with Aabsolut (8), and the glass Castle Rock Pinot (9). A bottle of Laetitia Estate Pinot is well priced at $44, and a good match for seafood and meat dishes.

The Volcano Roll (13) is a generous portion of crabmeat rolled, sushi style, covered with flaked crabmeat, then topped with a moderately hot mayo based sauce. The Sriracha's heat is a great match for the sweet crab and the luscious mayo sauce. If you like some heat, this is highly recommended.

The Green Dragon Roll is large, long, and attractive, with crispy shrimp tempura, crunchy asparagus, tender avocado and masago (an Icelandic tiny, crunchy caviar), rolled with rice, topped with thin slices of avocado then decorated with two compementary sauces (12). Two of us kept the hotter Volcano roll to ourselves, the rest dove with flashing chopsticks, securing slices of the Green Dragon.

My favorite dish is the Shiny Slippery shrimp (20). Charlie Chiang’s chefs cook the most tender, juicy shrimp in the area. the mildly spicy shrimp are coated with a tempura like light batter, stir fried with a touch of garlic, then served with a vinegar-Sriracha sauce, giving the right balance of slightly sweet and saucily slightly spicy.

My friend’s favorite is the Lemon Black Pepper Beef ((18). Thin slices of tender beef are wok seared, stir fried with a bold black pepper and rum sauce with tart bits of lemon peel, and served on fresh crisp green asparagus.

My second favorite dish is the Steamed Chilean Sea Bass (32), a huge portion of tender fish, getting rave reviews from all at the table. Topped with a light ginger-scallion sauce, its served on Chinese greens. It’s enough for two to share. Melt in your mouth tender.

The Roasted Chicken with Roasted Garlic (17) has deboned roasted chicken slices covered with a robust, crunch topping of fresh garlic and bell peppers. I like the crunchy texture combined in each forkful with the tender chicken.

Try the Tropical Chicken in Pineapple (17) for mild taste buds. Tender chicken breast slices are stir fried with pineapple, super peas and red bell pepers in light white wine sauce, and served in a fresh pineapple-how often do you get to eat the serving dish?

The Red Pepper Rosemary Chicken (17) is marinated in a rosemary-pepper infusion, lightly fried till crispy, then stir fried with mild whole dried red peppers, fresh chiles, and rosemary. This is bursting with bold flavor.

The Tempura Shrimp (17) are a seasonal delight, with the lightest of batters, served with scallions and red bell pepper, atop fried rice noodles. Light and tasty- the best!For dessert, I like the Chocolate Tuxedo Bombe (8) with rich chocolate layer cake, chocolate mousse, and white mousse inside a thin yet firm fondant shell, and drizzled with white chocolate. Musicians may notice more!

The Tempura Cheesecake (7) is lightly tempura battered New York style cheesecake that's flash fried, and served crispy-tender over a strawberry coulis. It’s a textural and tasty delight. Recommended!

When available, the chocolate layer cake (7) is one of the best desserts in town, with chocolate cream between the chocolate cake layers, covered with a perfect chocolate ganache, and rimmed with chocolate flakes.The location is off the beaten path, and they are successful.Why? Fresh food, good prices, generous portions, friendly staff and a beautiful location with riverfront dining works.The menu has vegetarian, heart healthy, and a good mix to entice. Loyal customers confided that they have tried David Wong’s Pan Asian in Bonita Springs, and AZN at the Mercato, and return to Charlie Chiang’s. All three serve very good pan-Asian cuisine, and are careful to have unique items and presentations, so the three different spots, overall, expand fine Asian cuisine options for diners.

12200 Tamiami Trail North, Naples, 593-6688

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