Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Delicious Dining in South Fort Myers' Blue Windows Bistro

If you’re at Blue Windows Catering and Bistro, you’ve arrived with anticipation. You certainly are not a “walk-in” or there by accident! It’s inconspicuously tucked on the side of Regal Plaza, on the west side of US 41, a block south of the Jamaica Bay stoplight. Until recently, catering jobs unpredictably closed the restaurant some weekday and weekend nights. Now, it’s a full time restaurant, and everyone is happier for the change! Co-owners Christian (Chef) and Mari (Hostess) Vivet are the consummate hosts. Their French cuisine is deliciously authentic made-from-scratch, and the restaurant is in my top five for Lee County.
There’s no shortage of parking. Be glad you made reservations; there are 32 chairs at 10 tables, and seats at the bar. Even in the summer, it fills up by 7 pm on a Friday or Saturday night. This is a bistro and wine bar, not a spot for kids, so get a fun sitter and movies for the kids, and enjoy your romantic evening out! There are red chairs, blue chairs and white tablecloths-perfect for Fourth of July!
 Décor is quite simple, with some maps, plaques, posters and a rooster on the yellow walls. Lighting is at a good evening level. It’s tolerably noisy when full, unlike some other spots that claim "intimate dining.". Friendly professional server Lisa is one of the best. She intently listens, competently fields questions, and deftly replaces silverware between courses. There’s a Belgian server who is just as professional. Thankfully, there’s no “auction” of food by servers saying “who gets the veal, who gets the fish” as happens at less professional restaurants. Most diners are regulars. Easy to tell as vivacious Mari Vivet greets them by name as they enter the door. We were greeted just as warmly. Some people arrive quite casually dressed in shorts; most are "upscale casual", with a few  elegantly attired. 
Appetizers feature classic onion soup gratinée with Gruyere cheese ($7) , chilled vichysoisse soup (6), merguez, a North African spiced lamb sausage with mustard (9), and pâté de campagne (7). Appetizer specials include “lobstergot”- a popular riff on the $8 traditional escargots à la Bourguignonne, served instead with Maine lobster chunks bathed in butter garlic sauce.

Veal sweetbreads are wonderfully matched with the dreamy Calvados cream sauce.
 The sweetbreads are thankfully plumper than usually served elsewhere, tender, and the surface is just lightly sauté –crisped. The sauce has a welcome slight peppery “bite.” It’s a generous portion for the $10 appetizer price, and  also a $26 entrée. Highly recommended!

The four pairs of frog legs Provençal (9) arrive tender, sautéed beautifully golden brown and crisp with a light breading. These are not the larger tasteless Asian frog legs. The herbed butter sauce lets their delicate taste shine forth. We dipped our warm, crisp baguette slices in the buttery sauce till all gone! Recommended.
Our dishes paired well with glasses of the Angeline Sauvignon Blanc and my favorite, the French Vouvray. There’s some 35 red and white wines by the bottle. Wines by the glass are generally under $10 for a good pour. Does a fine French chef serve only great wines? Oui, oui!

The house salad comes with each entree, and has a light vinaigrette over fresh field greens.
There are ten standard menu entrees, amply supplemented with nightly specials. Our evenings’ entrée specials included  pan-seared cod with beurre blanc and crab sauce, pan-fried boneless trout topped with light Grenobloise lemon wine caper sauce, and  a magret de canard épicé à l'orange.  Entrees come with the house salad, hot bread, and sides du jour.

Three seafood dishes catch the eye of one of my guests; he wants a light sauce. Lisa points out that the trout has a lighter sauce than the cod, and the vol-au-vent has the richest sauce of his three possibilities. That’s a good server-making it easy for the diner to decide!  Another friend, who has tried quite a few entrees over the years, recommended veal in Calvados cream sauce (28).

We were very happy with the half duckling with pomegranate sauce (25), served hot with nicely crisped skin.
Demi-Duckling with Gratinéed Zucchini and Mashed Potatoes
The food's temperature and crispness says it  doesn’t sit idle for minutes under a kitchen warming lamp before going out. There’s no excess fat to the duckling; the meat is tender, and the savory and sweet pomegranate sauce is a well thought out complement. Recommended!

The evening's two nice sides are also a hit. The ramekin of piped twice-baked red mashed potatoes with a little garlic and spices is so much better than the usual bland side of rehydrated mashed potatoes. The deliciously tender zucchini half holds a nicely spiced creamed spinach sauce, topped with melted cheddar cheese. My friend says “I hate zucchini, however I tried this, and I love the way they make it.” He polished his whole plate off, too!

Seafood vol-au-vent won my heart! It’s a culinary riff with a small hollowed light puff pastry rectangle, encasing lightly sauced large scallops, mahi-mahi and shrimp.
 I like that most of the seafood is out on the plate, not in the pastry. This way, the pastry stays crisp, rather than getting soggy were all sauce and seafood  inside a larger pastry. The shrimp and scallops retain crisp, slightly charred edges. The luscious lobster cream sauce is an ambrosiacal delight. It’s a large portion of fresh seafood for $26; great bang for the buck. I finished my dish, knowing there’s dessert to follow. I highly recommend this signature dish. A young local food writer who easily “moans with ecstasy” would no doubt recreate a writhing, orgiastic When Harry Met Sally deli scene with the dish, before your very eyes. Seat yourself accordingly.

The special pan-seared cod with beurre blanc and lump crab sauce arrived tender, perfectly cooked and lightly sauced. This is a treat (like walleye) not often served, or served as well in SW Florida restaurants. The trout is no less delectable.
Nearby diners loved their beef tenderloin with mushroom sauce. My fork couldn't reach.
Save room for desserts.
Special desserts include lavender crème brûlée; and strawberries marinade in orange liquor and served in a puff pastry, topped with orange whipped cream

The trio of profiteroles are baked on premises, filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with Christian's chocolate Grand Marnier sauce and with slivered almonds. Decadent!
Poached pears (poires Belle-Hélène) are poached in simple syrup, accompanied by vanilla ice cream, and topped with chocolate Grand Marnier sauce and whipped cream. In France, this dish comes with crystallized violets.
Relax and enjoy dessert and your guests company, accompanied by café au lait and regular coffee-they are wonderfully hot, tasty and freshly made. Mari stops by for a peek and says “Relax, finish your coffee.” She means it. You are not rushed-you come to Blue Windows Bistro to savor food with friends.

During the evening Mari makes the rounds of all tables several times-she is so personable, full of Southern hospitality and fun to talk with. Just as with Lisa,  neither will just recommend items until they get a feel for what you prefer. Chef Christian, just as outgoing, is infrequently out of his alchemist's kitchen. Blue Windows is a casual, friendly and thoroughly mère and père or “mom and pop” French bistro. My guest says “I feel like we’re guests in their home for dinner.”

Service at Blue Windows is friendly and professional. The food is wonderfully cooked, served appropriately hot not just warm, and the spicing is a treat. Food is very reasonably priced. I have only high compliments for Mari and Christian's dining. Perhaps the name could be changed to Blue Windows Bistro and Wine Bar, now that the catering aspect est fini.

Who is competition? There's none in Fort Myers/Lee County on price, French cuisine and food quality. Their cuisine is a match for any French spot in Naples, and the more casual setting is a plus. I’d have my birthday dinner or group of friends for a Blue Windows dinner in a heartbeat. Do reserve ahead of time. As the website says, “Our private events are frequent and we might be closed to the general public.” Dinner starts at 5 pm.
849-0622, 15250 South Tamiami Trail in South Fort Myers, mybluewindows.com

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