“It’s not just tacos. … It’s not just hot and spicy.”
 
 
 
 
Furthering its mission to serve modern yet authentic Mexican cuisine, Masa's newly appointed executive chef Roel Mesta not only has Mexican roots (his parents were born in Torreon in the country's mid-northern region), but he and his family also have a long history with the D’Amico restaurant group in Naples. He spent 14 years working at Lurcat and Campiello, plus both his wife and mother were on Masa’s opening kitchen team.
You’ve reworked the menu. Explain your goals.
Mexico has just so much out there. It’s a huge market in terms of ingredients and styles. Some of the many items that I changed were from my childhood, growing up—watching my grandmothers cooking. I think we have the flavors there; it’s more Mexican. We’re trying to stay away from Americanized Mexican food. My goal is to educate my staff about authentic Mexican cuisine and the depth and complexity of Mexican food, and I hope to bring that same awareness to guests. It’s not just tacos. … It’s not just hot and spicy.
What are one or two dishes that really showcase what you’re doing?
Asado Norteno. It’s a pork shank. It’s been seared then braised four to five hours so it’s fork-tender. The sauce is guajillo based. … The burger [at lunch] came from one of my trips to Mexico. It’s how you’d eat a burger in Mexico. It’s big and has a lot of flavor. The onions are really caramelized, we do the pickled peppers in house—they’re done with spices and herbs. There’s some ham. Usually you don’t see ham in burgers around here. There’s chipotle mayo, and we put pico de gallo in our burger mix.
What ingredient could you not live without?
Because of the versatility of this ingredient and the variety of it, it’d have to be dried peppers. There’s so many—guajillo, ancho, pasilla, mulato. We have a chile de arbol, and that’s really spicy. The guajillo is probably my favorite. It’s earthy, vibrant and the color is beautiful. I have a dressing using dried peppers—it goes on our green bean side dish. A dessert also uses a dried pepper; it’s the Mayan torte.
How do you juggle being an executive chef, husband and father of four?
I have a great, great woman by my side. My wife. She’s very understanding. She was here at the opening as a prep person. She helped me now with menu development, and she was super-excited to help with that.
 
 
 
 
First Taste of 1500 South

Get a sneak preview of what celebrity chef Art Smith’s restaurant will be serving when it opens to the public today at the Naples Bay Resort.

 
 
 
 
Dining Review: Bleu Rendez-Vous French Bistro

Chef Christian Vivet relocated to Sanibel, and it’s worth crossing the causeway for his classic dishes in a quaint new France-meets-Florida setting.

 
 
 
 
Cooking Classes Return to Sea Salt and Barbatella

Sign us up to be the teacher’s pet when it involves learning the secret to our favorite dishes or scoring a table for a night of opera and wine.
 
 
 
 
Brewery Hopping at Its Best

Cheers to the expansion of Southwest Florida Brewery Tours—edutainment for beer lovers who want to responsibly sip.

 
 
 
 
RECENT OPENINGS:
    • 1500 South by Chef Art Smith: After months of eager anticipation, the Florida-raised, two-time James Beard Award-winning Top Chef Master (and former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey) has opened his first restaurant in Florida, an upscale casual Southern kitchen with Italian influences inspired by his culinary diplomatic mission at last year's World Fair in Milan.
    • Catalina Cafe: Hand-in-hand debuting with 1500 South at the Naples Bay Resort with an official grand opening today is this tiny Tallahassee-based specialty coffee shop that puts a premium on house-made syrups and creative lattes.
    • Luigina's Pizza & Grill: In Fort Myers, expect a typical Italian-American pizza place but with an atypical twist—bacalhau and a few other Portuguese dishes as a nod to the owner's heritage.

REOPENINGS:
    • Yabba Island Grill: Skip Quillen, who late last year assumed full ownership of his company, Culinary Concepts, by buying out his investors, has done it again. He and his team remodeled the dining room and tweaked the menu to reinvent this as a now-more-subtly tropical steakhouse in Sugden Plaza.
    • Trail Cafe: Some were wondering if this renovation would ever be completed after hearing multiple updates on Facebook over a six-month span from the new owner, but fans of the North Naples breakfast and lunch cafe will be excited to know it's back in business, busting out signature muffins, razzleberry French toast and more.

COMING SOON:
    • Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant. Opens March 14. Don’t take the name at face value, but clap your hands because this fast-growing upscale chain's recipe for success will likely blend well with wine-obsessed Naples. A modern American menu with a little bit of everything (you know the drill—tuna tacos, braised short ribs, gnocchi bolognese), gets a unique angle from suggested pairings of Cooper's Hawk's own wines that are made in California. The space also features a Napa-style tasting room where guests can sample the wines sans food.

Congrats are in order to SWFL Children’s Charities, the organization that hosted yet another successful Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. Chaired this year by Sandy Stilwell and Andie Vogt, the weekend kicked off with elegant vintner dinners by local celebrity chefs and raised more than $2.8 million that will be donated to the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida along with other local initiatives.

Let’s let out a big yahoo as well for our local breweries. Fort Myers Brewing Company placed first among the 87 statewide competitors to be named the best large brewer in Florida last weekend (and, aside from its spot-on suds, it was remodeled this year, too); three other Lee County breweries won awards as well. More reason to hop on one of the brewery tours as mentioned above, no?

Two popular new restaurants with sophisticated takes on cuisines from Asia, 21 Spices by Chef Asif and Zen Asian BBQ, have just started offering lunch, both with irresistible midday deals.

If a light brunch is what you're after, Grain de Cafe, a can't-miss for authentic Gallic pastries, is continuing throughout season its live French jazz trio of a piano, clarinet and double bass Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

With agritourism and general green market awareness on the rise, chef Kristina San Filippo announced she's hosting a new green market in front of The Good Life Thursdays from noon to 2 p.m. (until the end of April) with two organic farms—Inyoni and 12 Seasons. This further boosts the Shoppes at Vanderbilt's cred in food circles, with the specialty shop Neighborhood Organics down a few doors and one of the best year-round weekend markets Saturday mornings.

Chef Mike Mueller of Cafe Lurcat has been impressing local foodies for the past year with his rotational seasonal menu (two-thirds of what’s offered changes every few weeks). If you haven't tried any of his Voyage dishes, definitely put a calendar reminder on for the next six weeks for his "Italia Moderna." Given that he cut his chops training under the award-winning Andrew Carmellini at A Voce in New York and his last effort, Parisian Brasserie, was memorable (we're still dreaming of his truffle-laced frisée with lardons), this is sure to elicit a collective "Bravo."

Fun fact: M&Ms turned 75 last week. Another fun fact: Sandbar Breeze, a just-opened ice cream parlor in Fort Myers, counts M&Ms as one of its core flavors—the spot, near RSW and next door to breakfast favorite Kate’s Kafe, is fast building a following for all of its made-on-premise sorbets, gelatos and ice cream.

Buy tickets for the March 12 Celebrity Chef Cook-off at the 11 Annual Imagine Gala that benefits Fort Myers’ Imaginarium Science Center. Derrick Peltz, fresh off his run on MasterChef where he made it to the finals, will judge the creative output from Fathoms’ chefs Fabrice Deletrain and Ben Voisin, chef David Rashty of the new Jack’s Farm to Fork and chef David Fraser of FGCU’s School of Hospitality.

Because most Southwest Floridians love their Proseccos and Barolos, it might be worth your while to check out DeRomo's winter wine showcase on March 15. The store is hosting the $10 tasting by the fountain outside starting at 5 p.m., and all of the wine will be available for purchase (a portion of proceeds will benefit LARC, which assists locals with developmental disabilities). The Renaissance being catapulted by the DeRomo's team at the Promenade at Bonita Bay has also yielded a new banquet room—you may want to peek inside while there—as well as live music Wednesdays at The Center Bar and a farmers' market Saturdays during season.

We're sure it's an unintended coincidence, but on St. Patrick's Day (March 17), the luck of the Irish will be with food-loving military buffs, as the Naples Yacht Club is hosting a three-course wine dinner event to benefit Operation300 with the Navy Seal famously known as the man who shot Osama bin Laden.

To celebrate St. Patty’s with corned beef, whiskey and shamrocks without having to play hooky from work, head to Six Bends' Irish Fest, which will keep the jigs up from 1-4 p.m. March 19. There’s always, of course, the parade down Naples’ Fifth Avenue South—this year being held Saturday, March 12—and stepping in to fill the void of the still-missed McCabe’s pub, Yabba Island Grill (now reconceived as a steak house—see above) is going make corned beef as a lunch special.
 
 
 
 
In the March issue of Gulfshore Life … Our critic checks out Petar's in Bonita Springs, and we make our recommendations for not-so-typical wings. Pick up a copy on newsstands today!

PLUS:
  The craft brewery boom
  The Dining Guide
  And more!
 
 
 
 
 
The votes are in, and we’re writing our critic’s picks—stay tuned for our May 2016 Best of the Gulfshore issue! Until then, check out our Weekly Best blog.

READ MORE now about our 10 Best New Restaurants.
 
 
 
 
 
 
If you have dining news to share for Hot Dish, email Dorothea Hunter Sönne,
Gulfshore Life’s food and wine editor, at dsonne@gulfshorelife.com. If you are interested  advertising in Hot Dish, contact Diane Loveless at dloveless@gulfshorelife.com.

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