For our third annual Dining Awards, we are introducing a new award: Editors’ Choice. These picks, decided on by our own editors, highlight outstanding restaurants in a handful of new categories that deserve recognition. This is a web exclusive feature; all the winners of the 2017 Readers’ Choice Dining Awards can be found in the January 2017 issue of Naples Illustrated.
Best Creative Menu: Sea Salt
The imaginative cuisine of Fabrizio Aielli is showcased in his signature restaurant on Third Street South. Though everything on the menu is a work of art, the best representation of Aielli’s talents is his chef’s table, just outside the kitchen, which features some of his most inventive dishes—on and off the menu. The chef personally interviews the patrons prior to the seating and develops a vision for the experience, including a custom menu based on their preferences. An example of a dish he has served in a past chef’s table: cotton candy wrapped with aged Parma ham and frozen Gorgonzola.
Best Beachfront Experience: Baleen
A longtime favorite for sunset cocktails, Baleen spills right onto the beach with outdoor tables surrounded by lit torches that provide an ethereal ambience. Gather after dinner for a nightcap at one of the glowing fire pits on a breezy evening. This is a must-stop destination to showcase Naples’ charm and glorious natural surroundings. For the ultimate romantic experience, try a “toes in the sand” dinner at a table along the water’s edge.
Best Place for a Sundowner: Gumbo Limbo
This casual, alfresco restaurant and bar perched on the dunes at the Ritz-Carlton Resort, Naples has a quintessential Florida vibe. True locals know this is the perfect spot to order a cocktail and appetizer, relax at a table overlooking the Gulf, and marvel at another perfect sunset. The menu teems with Florida classics like coconut shrimp and conch chowder—elevated, of course; this is the Ritz-Carlton, after all.
Best Big-City Vibe: HobNob
Big-city folks visiting Naples will have an immediate sense of familiarity when they step into HobNob. With its modern industrial décor, such as exposed bulbs illuminating the bar, you may at first mistake it for one of the hip restaurants you might stumble into in New York’s West Village. Heading in for apps and cocktails? A must-try is the stuffed sweet peppers.
Best Hidden Gem: Veranda E
Walking into Veranda E at the Hotel Escalante feels like entering a secret garden. At night, the patio glows beneath strings of white lights. Whether under a pergola or beneath the stars and palms, the intimate setting is perfect for your next romantic tète-á-tète. The Asian- and French-inspired cuisine is prepared with wholesome, local ingredients, including some from the sustainable organic garden on-site. A dish you cannot miss: Chef Bryan Sutton’s Hot and Crunchy Grouper.