I recently had the pleasure of dining at L’Etoile in North Naples, with Jenn and four of my friends. This was no typical nosh-and-go dinner… this was a full-on dining experience, complete with lovely ambience, an attentive wait staff, delicious wine, and food that was “oohed” and “ahhed” over throughout the evening.
We were warmly greeted by the owner, Trish Berruet and led into a dining room that was elegant without being pretentious. The menu had so many tempting items that there was some serious negotiating that went on before any firm decisions were made. “Well, if you get this, then I’ll get that, so we can taste both of them. When the first courses came out, it became clear that there was no mere mortal running the kitchen but rather a classically trained French chef… direct from France. I can’t even begin to understand what sort of magic executive chef and owner Marc-Jean Berruet was mixing up in his kitchen, but what he produced were sauces so velvety and sublime that they lingered on both the tongue and the memory for quite some time.
We were delighted to see that the portion sizes were not the typical, microscopic French offerings. Each course was generous enough that several of us didn’t finish our entrées, in an effort to save a little room for dessert.
My mussels appetizer, which was a special that evening, arrived in a light and tasty bath that included white wine, lemon, garlic and fresh thyme. They were fresh, perfectly steamed in the broth and absolutely delicious. Jenn’s seafood crepes were equally yummy. Shrimp, scallops, crab and grouper wrapped in a thin, tender crepe then blanketed in Mornay sauce and topped with Gruyere cheese…divine.
Entrées arrived beautifully plated, but the proof would be in the taste. I had chosen the Tournedos de Boeuf aux Echalottes with a schallot and Xerez vinegar sauce, while Jenn had selected the Escalope de Veau au Citron… a very fancy way of saying we had filet and veal scaloppini. The food was amazing…totally earning it’s fancy French names. Both the filet and the scallopini were so tender you could cut them with a fork, and the sauces, oh the sauces…Chef Marc-Jean has it goin’ on. I easily could have licked my plate, but the fact that I was surrounded by friends made the idea a bit, well…awkward!
While our appetizers and entrées were outstanding, there was one dish that I just couldn’t let go of…and the embarrassing thing was that I wasn’t even the one who ordered it. One bite of their crème brûlée, and I was a gonner. Seriously, it was the best I had ever tasted…and (she says while slightly embarrassed yet oddly proud) I’ve eaten more than my fair share of crème brûlée. After four days of obsessing over it, I began to wonder, “Was it really as good as I thought? Am I romanticizing its memory? Was I influenced by the wine I had consumed?” Well, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands and do what any neurotic foodie…ahem, I mean diligent food blogger would do. I went back to L’Etoile to eat it again. I’m delighted to report that it proved itself to be unquestionably delicious.
It arrives flaming, which I must admit is quite an entrance. Rather than a hard, glassy shell that is produced by topping a brûlée with white sugar, the chef finishes his brûlée with turbinado sugar, creating a softer texture and a more pronounced carmel flavor. The custard itself is phenomenal: dense, smooth, and creamy. It’s something that you won’t easily forget. The first night we passed it around the table so that everyone could have a taste. On my return visit, I greedily hogged almost the entire thing, allowing my husband only a bite or two. They offer both the traditional vanilla bean and a coconut crème brûlée, and having had both, I can honestly say either one is a winner.