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Dining Out: Bistro 821 ...
a class act featuring innovative food

Friday, October 25, 2002 By L.G. GORDON
- Naples Daily News

On Aug. 1, Bistro 821 at 821 Fifth Ave. S. changed hands. Chip Shumway sold the business to Billy Holcomb, former owner of Zoe's across the street at No. 720, and Jesse Housman, the original chef at both Bistro 821 and Zoe's.

Based on two recent dining experiences, it's evident that Housman is very much at home in his former kitchen, where he's turning out some of the most innovative cuisine found anywhere in Naples. For example:

Our sugar cane skewered jumbo prawns came with jasmine rice redolent with coconut ginger. The shrimp were bathed in a Thai sweet and spicy butter sauce, then garnished with crushed peanuts.

A grilled Florida lobster tail was equally sublime, the plump, sweet lobster meat doused with an addictive spiced rum brown butter sauce and perfectly partnered with artichoke and asparagus risotto.

In the wrong hands, cuisine such as this could be "over-ingrediented," but Housman knows how to avoid fusion confusion. And here's more good news. It doesn't take big bucks to enjoy his food.

Yes, the aforementioned entrees — both house specialties — run $29 and $27. But on our initial visit, when we took advantage of the specially priced salad, pasta and risotto choices, our dinner tab totaled a modest $35, including a couple bottles of Coors.

Diners watching their waistline or the bottom line can choose either appetizer or full-size portions. The price difference between the two is about 40 percent. My guest and I found the smaller versions quite acceptable, and the food was wonderful.

That evening we sampled a surprisingly hearty nut and berry salad that included blue cheese and was dressed with an excellent raspberry maple vinaigrette ($6.25 or $10). The salad was notable for its interesting mix of tastes and textures.

The soup du jour, a spicy red Caribbean seafood chowder ($4 or $5), also earned two thumbs up.

Both starters went well with the chewy house bread which was accompanied by an artfully arranged trio of dipping sauces: aged balsamic vinegar, freshly grated parmesan and olive oil with red pepper flakes. (I do wish they'd warm up the bread, though. Ours was stone cold.)

Pasta puttanesca — grilled chicken breast sliced over angel hair pasta tossed with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, oregano, basil, olives and roasted red peppers ($9 or $17) — was a flavor-packed (and affordable) entree.

And I liked my artichoke and asparagus risotto ($11 or $20) so much that I deliberately ordered the lobster tail on my second visit because it came with the same creamy, rich risotto.

It should be noted that people who select entrees from the regular bill of fare are also offered a variety of price points, however. The homemade chicken pot pie, for instance, is $11, and the chef's unique daily specials are often priced in the $20 range.

Examples from recent menus include a porcini dusted lamb tenderloin with goat cheese mashed potatoes and asparagus in a Pinot Noir demi glace and shellfish paella baked in a saffron flavored rice garnished with pearl onions and grilled vegetables.

Desserts have always been a worthwhile splurge at Bistro 821. Our luxurious creme brulee ($5), with its perfectly caramelized brittle sugar topping, was no exception.

A tip of the toque to Holcomb and Housman as well as chef de cuisine Martyn Freeman and sous chef Amelius Magestrate. Florida Trend magazine called Bistro 821 one of the top 200 Florida restaurants. My guests and I agree.

  821 5th Avenue South | Naples, Florida 34102 | 239-261-5821 | Fax: 239-261-1972
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