Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Latitude Restaurant and Piano Bar - Delicious Food in a Beautiful Naples Setting


Latitude’s opening is a wonderful homecoming for Naples diners, as Executive Chef Ross A. Peterson  takes over the helm at Latitude, Naples’ newest restaurant.  To cut to the chase, I have found the food is delicious and attractively plated, service is prompt and attentive, and the ambiance is warm and relaxing. Pretty bold words  for the second week of a restaurant’s existence, I know!
  Chef Peterson has a solid following in town, having been Executive Chef at Naples’ Roy’s then at Syrah, then Trilogy on 5th Avenue, and he’s also been a private chef as well for over a year.

   His homecoming comes as part of a winning team. He has partnered with Britta and Marc Schulze, who have great people skills, and with David Ogilvie, who also has been crafting German cuisine and preparing other cuisines for years in Bonita Springs.
Exec Chef Ross Peterson, Britta & Marc Schultze, Chef David Ogilvie
 A lot of thought and training prepared Latitude for its April 18th opening. This has been enhanced in the evenings in the Piano Bar with singer/pianist Lilah Carson, and also The High Voltage Band.  

Latitude is near Tiburon at the site of Paul Sturkey’s Encore, which then briefly became Café Italia. The ill-fated Café Italia suddenly closed both this and their Estero location. (Perhaps too much expansion too soon, and prices  too high for pasta.)  Latitude comfortably seats over 320 people inside in the dining room, banquet room and piano bar area, and perhaps 60 more on the patios. Parking is ample.
  I really like the décor; it evokes an ambiance of a bygone era, Art Deco and Erte. It’s blended with a fresh exotic Asian-like natural touch of reeds and orchids, with a touch of 70’s as well. The décor is berry inspired, think a rich red wine, with purple, plum and blackberry palette to enhance your palate. The servers have rich purple shirts and black pants. The booths have purple seats and black napkins, and the left side wall to the open kitchen is a rich cherry wood. Italian wall sconces have bold splotches of vineyard colors. The high walled booths are nicely separated from each other, giving privacy. They are backed by a 70’s era retro rectangular brocade, and topped by Art Deco stainless steel curves and polished orbs. The cherry wall is inset with halogen lit vases, globes and other items. Oil paintings and photographs abound. This a warm, inviting spot, tastefully decorated.

The music from the piano bar may waft in with a piano soloist, or richer  background sound from a three piece band, pianist, guitarist and drummer. After 9 or 9:30 pm or so, the music really livens up!
The High Voltage Band
 I shared a booth with three food lovers/cooks who are pretty tough on restaurants. I like to see the workings of a kitchen, so I’d sit again towards the back in a more private high backed booth by the open kitchen. Great spot to have a peek at the flatbreads coming out of the gas fired oven and the cooks and dancing flames on the line.

Others may prefer the open dining room. Some like to first unwind, chat and have drinks in the piano bar as we did. Daniel, our experience server, is very personable, and good with suggestions on dishes and wines. The table is set with white linen, black napkins (hides many sins) and large glass goblets. A basket of warm German style rolls and sweet, unsalted butter follows.

Latitude bakes all of their breads, rolls, pizza and flatbreads from scratch. There’s a machine in the back that takes a sheet of dough, and rolls it into some 20 rolls, ready for baking, in the time it’d take me t make 3 rolls. 

In time, Latitude’s bakery will sell breads and pastries for takeout, too. The also prepare their own wurst and other charcuterie. While some three German dishes appear on the menu for now, look forward to more traditional items to follow.
 We started with crispy golden calamari with a side of thai chili aioli ($11). The calamari are delicate in size and lightly breaded with perhaps panko crumbs, quickly flash-fried till just golden, ad served hot and crisp. 
 Unlike the heavy, frozen thick rings at other spots, these are a wonderfully light appetizer. The Thai sauce has just enough zing to make you want to quickly finish the whole plate!
 We shared a triple onion soup au gratin ($7), a rich variation on a traditional French classic. Chef Ross makes this soup over 3 days, so it the mellow beefy broth takes on complex layers of richness. Three cheeses-Parmesan, Gruyere and Swiss are used, and perfectly browned to a delicious slight crispness on top. The sliced onions are richly caramelized. As a bonus, there are grape-sized whole pearl onions as in the soup, giving a crunchy texture. This is a must have, anytime of year. 
 We took a break with the baby spinach salad ($9), topped with grilled mushrooms, bold pancetta, and tasty tomatoes. The dressing is light, letting the greens and pancetta lead the way.
 The braised lamb flatbread ($10) was an unexpected hit, served hot from the oven. It’s big and bold with savory smoked Gouda cheese and roasted tomatoes, with a lively and harmonious spice blend.  It comes pre-sliced. This is finger food, so use both hands and enjoy the rich lamb taste accented by Chef Ross’s fresh garden delights. This is a filling meal for one, or two light eaters! Recommended!

The Poke tuna ($12), topped with a crunch seaweed salad. Poke (POH-kay) is a favorite in Hawaii since the late 60’s, with the freshest sushi grade tuna “cooked” in a soy-citrus marinade. There’s many recipes for this sushi favorite,-cooks may include diced onion, ginger, green onion, sesame oil, and often have Macadamian nuts, furukake spicing, chili flakes, garlic and diced avocado for good measure. I didn’t get this tasty recipe-it does have the crunch of diced cucumber and some red cabbage. Be sure to have some tuna and crunchy fresh seaweed in each bite for a great contrast. It’s a keeper, and a very generous portion! Daniel, our great server and a fellow scuba diver, is very helpful recommending  dishes to suit our varied palates!
I had the Latitude punch ($9, with a mix of vodka, fruit flavored liquors, pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and a splash of lemon-lime soda. It has an overall good “berry” flavor.  Tablemates enjoyed the Belle Gloss 2009 Pinot Noir and a great Colorado microbrewery’s beer, Draft Boulder Beer “MOJO,” that’s tops with a twist of lime.
There’s a full bar, and a wide assortment of cocktails, martinis, domestic and imported beers. This month and next, choose from an unusually good deal on selected wines by the bottle!
 Try the fried Pepper Jack cheese, rolled tightly in a flour tortilla, egg-washed and lightly breaded with good spices and deep fried, and served with cilantro-infused sour cream and fresh pico de gallo (diced tomatoes, onions and jalapeno)! This is cheese with a saucy attitude!
Time for second courses! We started with the U-10 day boat scallop kabob ($25), with mint scented cream and demi-drizzle. The large scallops are fresh, nicely seared, and are butter-tender. The sauces complement, rather than take attention away from the scallops. The grilled onion, grilled red pepper and tender bok choy, topped with slender green onions and fresh basil, completes an attractive and filling fresh light meal! Highly recommended!
 Nobu’s misoyaki local grouper ($25) was the hit for two people at our table! The fresh grouper has a crisped surface that contrasts with the moist tender fish. Googling “Nobu misoyaki”; it is a marinade with miso (fermented bean paste, mirin-sweet wine, sake and some sugar. (BTW, Japanese eel sauce has a similar mixture that’s greatly reduced.) The delicious, light fish comes with bok choy, rice, and citrus-laced shoyu sauce. This also may come with “butterfish,’ instead of grouper. Highly recommended!
 The truffle salt-grilled filet mignon ($29)is one of the best filets we’ve had in Naples in a long time. The beef is tender, tasty, and has a wonderful seared crust. It’s a good sized portion for $28. It comes with a roasted apple demi-glace, mashed potatoes (with some garlic) and grilled asparagus. The beef comes hand selected from their private butcher in Port Charlotte. The filet was served medium rare, just as requested. Highly recommended!
 The center cut “Kassler” pork chop ($24) is another good sized portion. It is smoked and served bone-in. This German rustic classic tastes and has the texture of an aged ham, rather than a pork chop. I really like the sauce! It will come with Hamburg –style roast potatoes; we had mashed potatoes and asparagus this first week. Some might pan sear it, and serve with sauerkraut.

Others nearby raved about the lamb chops and the Latitude meatloaf. Next time!

Guests can talk with the four owners. Britta and Marc Schultze are a wonderfully friendly couple from Germany. Marc had run a restaurant in Germany in the past. He knows and does what it takes to have people of all ages happy and well fed. Executive Chef Peterson and David Ogilvie are quite experienced in “back of house” operations. David’s also an experienced baker. As time allows, he will start baking and serving various classic German and European breads, like pretzel bread and broetchen. All bread is baked from scratch on premises, starting at 5 am. They have all tasted and tested each dish out many times before it became a “keeper”, earning a spot on the menu. The food is as fresh as it can be-the European way. Soon, they will also kick up the charcuterie, and offer an amazing assortment of wursts and even Westphalian ham.  

Dessert time! “The desserts are magnificent”, my companions say! All are locally baked by Paw Mikkelsen’s Pastry Shop; he’s a former Ritz-Carlton pastry chef. Each dessert is a tasty work of art.

My top two are the apple strudel ($6) and the pecan tart ($6). The warm apple strudel is prepared European style; thin with light flaky dough caressing slightly crisp apples, most importantly it’s prepared without gobs of added sugar. 
 There’s a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top. It comes with a light sauce and a bit of fresh whipped cream decorating the plate. Delicious!

The pecan tart ($6) is bursting with flavor, and the crust is a work of art. Two can share this easily!

The fruit tart has fresh seasonal berries, a custard filling, and perhaps an almond paste base, within  a delicious crisp crust.

The hazelnut bombe is filled with a delicious mousse!

We greatly enjoyed the food, attentive service and the warm ambiance of a bygone era. The privacy of the booths is a welcome plus.  We left as the band in the piano bar played a rousing “Twistin’ the Night Away” around 9:30 pm.   My guest JC said “I had a big lunch earlier, and I still enjoyed my dinner and the pacing, and didn’t feel too full!” We walked around the restaurant, and peeked in the banquet room, and walked by tall reeds and pots of orchids in bloom. Latitude is a keeper!

2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, Suite 1100, 596-5600, www.latitudenaples.com 



Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that a "fine dining" retaurant would feature its dinner rolls from the get go of it tenure. Or maybe the author was just going from course to course, which is perfecly acceptable. Howevr, knowing Chef Ross's talents and style, I find the pictures of his entrees, appetizers and desserts do not do him or his talents justice. We enjoyed our fist visit to Latitudes during their :Friends and Family" evenings and were a bit confused as to which menu items were being offered. Had our server been trained better, we probaly would have enjoyed our dinners much more. But we left a bit dissappointed, knowing that every restaurant goes through a "growing pain" period. We can't wait to go back in a week or two, but please, give the Chef's creations the magical images of what they are when they arrive at your table, And get rid of any sluff waitresses that cannot do justice to your food.

Ivan Seligman said...

Thank you for writing on your "Friends and Family" experience.
If there'as any day a restaurant could find things to improve, that is the best day to find them!
I hope you told Ross and the other owners of your positive criticism of servers and other things, as this is the "shakedown cruise" for all to learn.

I take actual photos of my food as it arrives at the table, so dinner rolls come first, and followed in order with appetizers, main courses and desserts, as your guessed. What you see is exactly what was served, and I expect some items to be "tweaked" over the first few months.

I was very happy with presentation, price and service.
I'm not surprised your server was not "better trained" on a "family and friends" night. They learn and improve from that pre-opening night, and each subsequent night.

Yes, every restaurant has a growing period, and so shall Latitude. Because season is ending, and what I had was so enjoyable, I chose to write them up in just their 2nd week of business.

As far as my photography not showing "the magical images of what they are when they arrive at your table", I asked my other diners, and other friends who've since dined there, and they said the photos were accurate.

Perhaps because you were at "family and friends night", you got a different presentation of your food.

Give them time to "grow" and then visit in a few weeks to let me know your experience.

Thank you.

Unknown said...

Very uninspired. Went for lunch on 5/2/2011, about 2 weeks after opening. I had a rueben that came open faced although that is not what was indicated on the menu. It would have been alright, but the bread seemed to be a slice of white bread with no flavor or texture unlike the hearty rye one would expect. The pastrami was dried out and not good at all. Wife had the chicken sandwich that was about a 2-3 ounce piece of chicken breast covered in hot sauce and served on a run of the mill kaiser roll. It came with a side of blue cheese dressing and a lettuce, tomato and onion garnish. The fries were your garden variety that would have been better at Mel's diner. If this lunch is any indication of the food that this place serves, save your money and eat at Chick-Filet or Wendys.

axiomaticimages said...

Thank you for your recommendation at Taste of Collier. I have booked a reservation for Mother's Day and am "licking my chops" per your recommendation. Nice meeting you and look forward to more of your gustatory musings, one of the jewels of SWFL.

Ivan Seligman said...

Thank you for your kind words.

It's good to meet a fellow photographer and food lover!

I'm glad I can share some culinary finds with you and others.

axiomaticimages said...

forget the naysayers. this place is tres yummy. don't know why people have to be so mean sprited. perhaps the are just very unhappy people.

Ivan Seligman said...

The naysayers often have not even visited the restaurant.

They often are competitors, previously fired employees, or have a personal grudge.

Glad your Mother's Day dining at Latitude was enjoyable!

jen said...

We just had dinner at Latitude. Kesha was our server in the lounge area and she was wonderful! We started with the lobster mac and cheese...very good, but the portion could be larger to compete with Capital Grill, especially when pricing is the same. Also had the onion soup which was delicious and ranked in my top 3 onion soup experiences. For entrees, we had the NY strip and lamp chops and both were amazing. The preparation of the NY strip was better than capital grill, our former favorite! Oh and loved the pretzel rolls! Original twist for a "fine dining" establishment. Our single complaint was that the live music was supposed to be until 10pm and we arrived at 9:30 and the music was already over...next time! Best of luck Latitude! We cannot wait to return!

Anonymous said...

We frequent many area restaurants with "happy hour" menus. ALL feature a lite type draft beer at reasonable prices except here. A shame as several neighbors and friends have said they will NOT return for this reason as well as other customers we visited with while going there 4 times. The area competition has much better "deals".
we love the bar menu and hope they get this message before they suffer the fate of the several already failed restaurants at the location.

Anonymous said...

Was very disappointed in the presentation and quality of the food. Maybe an 'off' day??? Sorry, but won't be going back to Latitudes.

tom Rosen said...

Sometime the NAYSAYERS are just people that know a good restaurant and good food. It seems that LATITUDES IS GONE.