Sunday, June 15, 2014

La Bazenne- French and International Cookery with a World Class Chef



La Bazenne is one of my go-to restaurants in SW Florida. That says a lot. I infrequently return to a restaurant, given that there are hundreds to try in my Collier and Lee county niche. The welcoming spot is at 474 5th Avenue South, with a bright yellow and white awning casting shade for some two dozen outdoor seats, an inner seating area for perhaps 25 more, and the innermost dining area with seating for perhaps 20 around the bar and at a few tables.

Trying to order the same dish weeks later is like trying to capture a rainbow. Executive Chef Andy Hyde's creativity keeps bringing new dishes alongside traditional French dishes to tempt, and satiate your palate.  Every few weeks the menu changes a bit with seasonal produce. If a favorite from weeks before is off the menu, perhaps he'll revive it for you, seasonal produce willing! This write up covers dishes I've ordered on several visits. Everyday, there are specials on the blackboard of food and drink delights.

   Chef Andy channels Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz and other "cooking gods" in his quest for uber-fresh vegetables and seafood, cooking each item to bring out its best flavors, and  crafting beautiful presentations that have folks snapping photos with cell phones to share with friends and FB. His multicultural background has taken him from Ghana to Germany, France and across the USA, picking up the best from top chefs at 3-Michelin starred restaurants (Germany's Aqua, Gordon Ramsey's, etc,) as he charts his own creative course. 

   Affable owners Amy and Romuald (Romeo)  Giacometti, an American and French couple (and daughter) have opened the second La Bazenne restaurant, and it's the first on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
 The first La Bazenne was started in 1974, and now celebrates its 40th birthday.

As in France, come for a cup of Illy coffee and a wild mushroom crepe for breakfast; salad, confit duck leg or Le Zen Burger for lunch; or a nice French wine and entrée  with a perfect dessert to cap off an evening with friends-the ones you dined with, and the new ones you've made with Amy, Romuald, and perhaps someone at the next table!  Join the Social Club to reap the benefits of special promotions, meet  other lovers of good food and conversation, and perhaps refresh some of your faltering French language.

Breakfast  may start with a choice of butter or chocolate croissant, crepes, galettes (special crepes) and various egg dishes for starters. Check the black board for daily specials.

Lunch/Brunch is when I'm awake!

My repeat favorite is the large $14 la tarte aux champignons, or crepe/tart with a good handful of fresh earthy mushrooms, melted Époisses de Bourgogne cheese and cream, bacon,  frisée (curly endive) and arugula, topped with a light Dijon vinaigrette.
 This is so luscious, flavorful and light-it's a perfect meal portion- just filling and yet light. Highly recommended.  Or your can have the ham galette /crepe/tart with egg and salad.
Dinner can start with a generous pour of the French pinot noir ($12), or the house drink, La Bazenne ($8), with Dolin vermouth, Tariquet wine and strawberry flakes.

Salads are perfect for summer. the mixed melon features greens with  different melons-watermelon, canteloupe and papaya that have been lightly marinated in liquors like Courvoisier, Grand Marnier, etc. Refreshing!

An amuse bouche may arrive-one evening the crisp baked bread and butter was accompanied by a tiny  rabbit-eared carrot, and a spoonful of a salmon treat. 
Who knows what may greet you?

The fried oyster appetizer ($14)  is a crisp treat, with lightly fried Louisiana oysters and a French tartar sauce for dipping, accompanied by wonderful pommes frites and mixed greens. 
There's scant breading on the oysters so it's pure molluscan goodness!

Coq au vin, La Bazenne style ($18) , is a French red wine braised portion of chicken, that's then coated in panko then deep fried, Southern style, and served with mixed greens, pearl onions and a superb secret recipe sweet 'n spicy dipping sauce.
 Order with fries or bacon-vinaigrette mixed greens.
 The chicken is very flavorful dark meat, richly accented by the wine. Don't expect traditional coq au vin or Southern fried chicken, this clever twist is unique.

I'd make a meal out of two orders of gazpacho soup with scallop ($11). It's red and white, with a dollop of Vichyssoise mousse alongside a seductive blend of heirloom tomato, tomato leaves, cucumber and red bell pepper. 

The star is the large diver scallop, seared and served hot, with the red soup and microgreens placed in the bowl at the last minute. Highly recommended!

Schnitzel  ($18) is to die for delicious. Of course, a German-trained top chef would know he'd be tested on his wienerschnitzel, and Chef Andy scores a 10 out of ten.
Pounded just thin enough, it is breaded with herbs and fried, with a delicate sauce, jicama, and a couple slices of lemon. This infrequently seen special is highly recommended.

Lamb Lolliops are superb! 
 Adding just a little seasoning and a light sauce, lamb does not get more tender or delicious than this. Highly recommended.

The lobster special may come with shrimp, lobster, or fish. It is perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. 
 The seasonal special has a sweet Maine lobster tail glazed with blood orange besides a rich asparagus puree and frisee

Other signature dishes include les St. Jacques diver scallops, Le Bar Zen rye bread crusted sea bass with a Burgundy truffle risotto, lavender duck breast and le vegetarienne wild mushroom risotto with fava beans and fennel pollen.

Desserts...

La banana chocolat Chantilly is a dessert for two that's a bargain at $8. This large crepe is made to order, drizzled with your choice of chocolate, Nutella or both, and served hot with a large puff of fresh whipped cream. 
I'd go for both toppings. What a way to top off a meal.

Le Bouchon Decadent is another chocolate high, with a chocolate bouchon (brownie-like cake), Bourbon vanilla ice cream, chocolate, caramel or butterscotch drizzle and fresh berries for $9.
 Ready for a wallet-friendly Romantic early dinner? The tastiest deal on 5th Ave South is the the 3-course prix fixe menu from 4-6 pm, Monday to Friday, which features some of the above mentioned starts, main dishes and desserts.

La Bazenne, 474 Fifth Avenue South, Naples, 682-8623, labazenneonfifth.com

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