Saturday, March 13, 2010

Chef's Table at Naples Grande - Naples, Florida

Chefs Mike Moran and Erik Baker
Ready for a refreshingly unique “Chef’s Table” dining experience in SW Florida? Ready to enjoy dining in a fine restaurant’s kitchen, enjoying luscious Hilton-quality food and wine at a reasonable price?

I’ve got the spot for you. The Naples Grande “Chef’s Table” offers one of the best, and certainly most memorable meals you’ll ever have! It’s intimate dining, served in the kitchen of the former Lafite’s restaurant, on the first Friday of each month. Your table directly faces the chefs “on the
line.” Chat with them while they cook and plate your courses. Watch and learn simple techniques that make your own cooking taste and look like a gourmet meal. Chefs Erik Baker and Mike Moran freely share recipes and ingredients. It’s well worth it to see top chefs in action, and what a real working restaurant kitchen looks like!

The five course meal started in the Naples Grande lobby, as my guest and I met the other guests at the Community Table, and savored Veuve Cliquot Champagne. Two guests were from Naples, and two were from North Carolina. The perfectly bite sized five spice lightly seared duck and
goat cheese amuse bouche was accented with crisp toasted almonds, golden raisins, and a rich balsamic syrup reduction. We knew we were I great hands for a top dining experience! We walked where few guests ever go, directly into the spotless former Lafite’s kitchen, that has also catered weddings and served celebrities for years.

The first course’s jasmine rice smoked Scottish salmon was perched on a crisp green apple and celeriac slaw, cut matchstick sized on a Benriner mandoline before our eyes. Topped with a tarragon horseradish crème fraîche and accompanied by the fruity, crisp Joel Gott Sauvignon blanc 2008, it’s a delight. A bonus is the warm lemon tea for contrast-you’ll find yourself trying each component separately, then synergistically combining the elements to have a delightful bite of smoky duck, crisp apple, and lush horseradish crème fraîche.

The “grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup” is not what you had as a kid! This is over the top with Hudson Valley foie gras, cured pork belly, caramelized onion and fig marmalade, and topped with melted Manchego cheese. The shot glass sized tomato soup is creamy and rich, made from yellow tomatoes. Comfort food was never this comfortable!

Course three’s pomegranate BBQ laquered quail is a moist, tender gem. We also flipped over the
brown egg shell containing warm creamy custard with cool and slightly salty Osetra caviar. The pairing of the latter two on your tongue is not to be missed!
The quail pairs well with the Joel Gott 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Intermezzo offered a Veuve Cliquot Rose Champagne sorbet with strawberry pearls. The “pearls” are formed by adding the strawberry emulsion drop by drop into an alginate bath, yielding pearl round spheres that pop on the tongue like caviar!

Course four’s “low and slow” braised short rib is cooked for 8 hours til truly “melt in your mouth” tender, and served with a rich bone marrow, red wine and caramelized onion demi glace. The star of this course is the pairing with the silky-rich cauliflower puree. Savored with sips of the Joel Gott Cabernet, and it just doesn’t get better!

The pacing of the meal allowed for conversation with other guests, the chefs, and the portion size is just right, so there’s anticipation (and room for!) the fifth courses dessert of mini cheese cake spring rolls served with a slightly spicy Sichuan caramel over vanilla bean ice cream, and finished off with caramelized super thin, grilled pineapple. The chefs got a truly standing ovation from the guests, who stood up to congratulate them on a magical evening.

The Chef’s table is an almost one-on-one experience for up to 12 people. This is an amazingly great gift and sensory rich culinary experience. You’ve had many meals in your lifetime, however not may will offer Chef Baker and Chef Moran cooking for you in their kitchen. This one of a kind experience is on a par with any one or two Michelin starred restaurants.I’ve sampled (and prepared) quite a few multicourse meals. I am confident you will find it one of your most memorable and enjoyable dining experiences ever. The prices varies with what’s offered; it ranges from $80-100. A Chefs Table can be also be scheduled on other nights for private functions. Naples Grande Beach Resort, 475 Seagate Drive, Naples, 254-5600,

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