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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lamb Lolliops are superb!
The lobster special may come with shrimp, lobster, or fish. It is perfectly cooked and beautifully presented.
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.
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.
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.
La Bazenne, 474 Fifth Avenue South, Naples, 682-8623, labazenneonfifth.com