2017-04-20 / Cuisine

Cote D’Azur serves the sun-drenched flavors of the French Riviera


Naples is exceptionally blessed when it comes to French restaurants. There are establishments specializing in classic French, rustic French, bistro French and Provencal- style French.

It is this latter category with which we are concerned today. Cote D’Azur celebrates the foods of the French Riviera. These aren’t the rich, cream-drenched concoctions one normally associates with this cuisine. Instead, Provencal-style French cuisine bears more of a resemblance to Italian, with its reliance on olive and balsamic oils rather than cream-based sauces.

Cote D’Azur, is a charming and longlived restaurant tucked into the side of a Publix shopping center a stone’s throw from Watermark Grille, set back from U.S. 41 just north of Immokalee Road. You aren’t likely to see it from the road. Just trust me that it’s in the plaza and pull in.

We arrived early — with reservations — and so were fortunate to land a booth along the wall. It was still a small table for two, but at least it wasn’t one of those in the middle of the narrow dining room where people would be running back and forth behind us throughout the meal.

Roasted baby calamari showcase the Provencal style of cooking. 
KAREN FELDMAN / FLORIDA WEEKLY Roasted baby calamari showcase the Provencal style of cooking. KAREN FELDMAN / FLORIDA WEEKLY I would argue that despite the width, our booth could have been a foot wider, which would have reduced the amount of plate juggling that ensued throughout our meal. When you have water and wine glasses, plus bread plates and appetizers or entrees, there just isn’t enough room on an average two-top for everything.

The Tuscan ciabatta bread served with a big bowl of fruity olive oil laced with aged balsamic, red pepper flakes and herbs was delicious, a promising start as we perused the wine list.

We ordered a Patz & Hall pinot noir, but the server returned to tell us they were out of it. Instead, we tried the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee 2012, a similarly priced bottle ($110) that critics describe as “full-bodied” with “black cherries, intense fruit and playful tannins.” Had I read that before tasting it I would have sent the bottle back as it had no distinctive nose or flavors of either fruit or tannins. My companion — this newspaper’s former wine columnist — and I both deemed it insipid, but it didn’t taste spoiled so we made do.

Wild fresh halibut, left, is accompanied by red cabbage confit, pumpkin puree and roasted eggplant. Flan cake, right, is a light way to finish a meal. Wild fresh halibut, left, is accompanied by red cabbage confit, pumpkin puree and roasted eggplant. Flan cake, right, is a light way to finish a meal. We found it interesting that the server handling the table behind us made a great show of bringing out special pinot noir glasses for his guests while our server simply provided standard red wine glasses.

The roast baby calamari ($12) looked to be an appetizing starter. The small tubes of squid were tender, bathed in a rust-red sauce containing nicoise olives, capers, espelette (French peppers), sun-dried tomatoes, parsley and piquillo peppers. With all of those ingredients you’d expect a fairly zesty dish, but this one was on the mild side, with the capers and olives adding most of the life.

Better was the jumbo lump crabmeat ($18), an appetizer large enough to be an entrée. The crabmeat sat atop the salmon carpaccio with wasabi lime and ginger emulsion, smoky caviar on top and a drizzle of raspberry coulis. It was a beautiful dish with an interesting mix of flavors and textures, and there was plenty for two to share.

From the entrees, I tried the crispy roast duck ($39) while my companion opted for wild fresh halibut ($36).

The duck was crisp, as our server had promised, bathed in a delicious black currant and cherries port wine sauce with orange zest and green peppercorns. It was on the sweet side but not cloyingly so. But the rest of the dish turned out to be sweet, too: glazed Bosc pear segment, butternut squash puree and a tart-sweet cranberry and apple chutney. The rich duck and its sauce would have benefitted from a more savory counterpoint, such as the haricot verts served with the veal chop.

The halibut was the better dish, the fillet moist and properly cooked, topped with a truffle chardonnay sauce and set on a bed of roasted eggplant, with side of red cabbage confit and pumpkin puree.

While the vegetables on both plates tasted good, they were room temperature when they arrived at the table, apparently plated well before the warmer main courses.

We shared a piece of flan cake ($10) for dessert, made with two layers of light, airy cake, crème patisserie, an apricot glaze and berry coulis. With that, we ordered a glass of Sauternes Chateau Doisy-Vedrines ($18). The server returned with a bottle of something else that was not chateau bottled, clearly a lesser caliber sauternes. My companion questioned him about it and he said they had changed brands a couple weeks earlier.

The brand he delivered retails for $20 a half bottle, half the price of the Doisy- Vedrines. After we questioned him about it, he apologized and took the item off the bill. I’m not going to accuse him of bait and switch, but it’s the sort of mistake a good restaurant should not make and one that consumers should be ever vigilant about.

Atmospherically, Cote D’Azur is charming, despite being long and narrow. It has the feel of a French country inn, with white and yellow-striped awnings hanging over the tables along the wall. I’d recommend going with a second couple to avoid being seated in the dreaded two-tops. ¦

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