New-Lee Opened Restaurants

Lee County diners enjoy fresh options in 2012

‘Tis the season. No not that jolly one.  I wish. The one that brings flurries of lily-skinned snowbirds and tourists to our fair Southwest Florida.

Preceding them like sun before the storm has been a burst of new or newly designed restaurants on the horizon of the Fort Myers-Sanibel Island area.

I’ve made my rounds to a few, and happily report a great dining forecast for season 2012.

Get Funky

For those flying in to RSW in time for dinner, skip the airport food (although there’s a new-concept Shula’s Steakhouse opening there this week), and get thee to Funky Fish (8911 Daniels Pkwy., 239-362-2042).

Macadamia-crusted yellowtail snapper at Funky Fish

Brought to us by one of the meatballs behind Two Meatballs in the Kitchen, practically next door, this one doesn’t totally foresake Italian; its signature dish it borrowed from Meatballs, namely seafood fra diavolo.

It doesn’t take a meatball to realize, however, that this place is about seafood. (I heard that “duh!”) Try the Funky Spicy Shrimp appetizer and macadamia-crusted yellowtail snapper.

With a ceiling sealife mural and 3-D glasses to make it pop, live music, and a lively bar – this may not be funky in the old-Florida sense of the word, but it certainly makes its own rules.

Heavenly

On Sanibel Island, the big news is Il Cielo (1244 Periwinkle Way, 239-472-5555), which can be translated as the sky or heaven. I pick the latter. It opens tonight, but I got a sneak preview late last week.

Totally gutted and refurbished, the piano bar holds the old conviviality of its former self, Dolce Vita, but has grown to majestic proportion with new

Chef Loretto Paganini welcomes guests to Il Cielo

appointments and fixtures in the dining room.

At the helm, Loretto Paganini is a familiar name on Sanibel Island. For more than a dozen years, the Bologna native has come to the island from her International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute in Ohio to teach a week of informal – and typically hysterical – food classes.

She’s serious in the kitchen along with Milan-born Chef Marco Corricelli, creating dishes that reflect their homeland with down-to-earth authenticity. I can recommend the oxtail meatballs, homemade sausage with rapini, lamb chops, and impossibly light tiramisu.

Sweet Tweaks

At Sanibel’s Beachview Golf Club, Melissa Talmage spreads the love she shares at her loudly applauded Sweet Melissa’s Café.  Bistro @ Beachview got a makeover with a serious injection of warmth and a menu that tweaks its old steakhouse regime with fresh touches.

There’s wasabi guacamole with the excellent tuna poke and wonton chips appetizer and jalapeno creamed corn with the crab cakes. Pure Melissa.

I was especially happy to see her grilled Caesar transplanted to the new location: A halved head of romaine gets scorched on the grill, and heaped with a creamy Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese.

The signature bone-in filet is still there, served with a nice red wine reduction, but there’s more seafood and some ethnicity in the corned beef and cabbage and Cuban marinated pork tenderloin with black beans and rice.

Radar Readings

Stay tuned for some on-the-verge restaurants that have recently crossed my radar:

  • The owners of The Edison restaurant, also near the Estates, will open Ford’s Garage this winter downtown Fort Myers. Firestone’s, naturally, will follow.
  • Rosa Kim, owner of 18-year-old Origami in Fort Myers, plans to open Nami, an Asian steakhouse nearby by March.
  • At the old Dixie Moon downtown Bonita Spring, rumor has it a new Caribbean restaurant will open.
  • For those wondering when WILL McT’s reopen on Sanibel, word is – as they say in Jamaica – “soon come.”
  • Anyone have any other juicy restaurant news?
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