The News Press Dining Review by Jean Le Boeuf

Review June 2006 by Jean Le Boeuf

Sam-Bucco Bistro may be a newcomer to the local dining scene, but its chef/owner, Sam Bucco, is not. Anyone who has eaten at La Fontanella in Bonita Springs over the years has no doubt savored his flavorful creations, dishes featuring some unlikely combinations of ingredients that somehow taste as if they were made for one another.

The chef struck out on his own about six months ago, opening his own restaurant just south of the Lee-Collier county line in the same complex as another impressive newcomer, Naples Tomato.

Sam-Bucco Bistro's ambiance is elegant, its service staff efficient and graceful, both lending polish to the Mediterranean menu. There's an inviting bar just inside the entrance with an attractive glass-enclosed wine vault adjoining it. Lighting is subtle, adding richness to the cream and caramel tones of the spacious dining room. Spotless white linen tablecloths cover each table and comfortable banquettes allow couples to dine side by side while taking in the scene.

A covered patio visible through several sets of glass doors faces a grassy (as-yet) undeveloped area behind the shopping center, giving summer diners a glimpse at what appears a splendid setting for dinner once cooler weather returns.

There are 14 wines available by the glass and a by-the-bottle list that's dominated by California and Italian selections. We sampled a Monti Antico baby brunello, an Italian vintage that tasted young, not yet having developed the rich flavors and bouquet for which Tuscan wines are known. The Frescobaldi chianti classico reserva was better, possessing a lovely purplish-red hue and lots of fruit flavor, particularly cherry, balanced by chewy tannins.

A basket of warm, Italian bread accompanied by a dish of olive oil and sundried tomatoes made for a delicious start.

From the cold antipasto lineup we tried the Sam-Bucco appetizer, a medley of baba ganoush, hummus and avocadoes mingled with roasted red pepper, red onion and crisp slices of focaccia bread. Everything was excellent, especially the baba ganoush, which was a flavorful blend of mashed eggplant brightened with lemon and spices.

From the hot appetizers, we opted for the Turkish grilled calamari. The calamari was superbly handled, with bite-sized pieces of the smoky, tender-crisp squid mounded atop arugula, endive and dried tomatoes then finished with balsamic vinaigrette.

We shared a Roquefort salad that featured pine nuts, roasted pears and tangy Roquefort cheese over baby greens. The red wine-lemon vinaigrette with which it was lightly dressed was perfect both in flavor and quantity.

My dinner companion and I both had trouble selecting one entree each from the appealing menu but finally committed to the pio bease and the filet mignon Napoleon. The former was a seafood medley that resembled bouillabaisse. It contained scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and fish in a saffron-scented tomato-based broth. We were happy that it also came with more focaccia, which allowed us to sop up more of that delicious broth.

The other dish contained tender tips of filet with baby shrimp, mushrooms and grape tomatoes in a garlic demi glace. It was finished off with Gorgonzola cheese and pine nuts and served atop fettuccine. All of the ingredients were fresh and worked well together, creating a dish that was greater than the sum of its parts.

For a finale, we shared a slice of light, creamy tiramisu that had a rich chocolate flavor enhanced by chocolate shavings on top and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

It was a superb meal from start to finish, matched by a warm and welcoming staff.

I often find restaurants I vow to revisit. Sam-Bucco Bistro now tops that list. This one's a keeper.

-- Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines anonymously at the expense of The News-Press. Send comments to him at [email protected], fax to 335-0265 or write in care of Lifestyles, The News-Press, P.O. Box 10, Fort Myers, FL 33902.

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