2011-07-06 / Cuisine

Yanos adds creative new energy to First Street dining scene

The homemade potato chips and cream cheese-salsa dip rather than hohum bread and butter immediately signaled that something interesting was happening. The crunchy waffled chips and creamy dip were a taste of what was to come at Yanos, a welcome addition to the River District’s restaurant options.

Occupying what used to be Delicious Things, Yanos is the brainchild of Chef Chris Yanovich and his wife, Sarah. Contemporary cuisine and boutique wines are the concept, and they do an excellent job in bringing both to the table.

The dining room retains the somewhat stark décor that marked a redesign by the last occupant — black banquettes and Art Deco-y chairs beneath Warholesque portraits of Marilyn Monroe in various colors. At first glance, it might not be evident what’s happening here, but one meal should win over most discriminating diners.

The well-chosen wine list offers some rarely seen selections, including the refreshing 2010 Picpoul de Pinet we shared. A citrusy white from France’s Languedoc region, it’s a great summer wine that’s on the light side but big enough to stand up to food.

Plump, juicy seared scallops and a vegetable ragout get a flavor boost from a touch of balsamic vinegar. 
KAREN FELDMAN / FLORIDA WEEKLY Plump, juicy seared scallops and a vegetable ragout get a flavor boost from a touch of balsamic vinegar. KAREN FELDMAN / FLORIDA WEEKLY As for the food, the potato chips are just a start. From appetizers to salads, entrees to desserts, the items served fulfill the promise of the menu with artful presentations comprised of firstrate ingredients that are imaginatively combined.

The insalata caprese ($9), for example, contained the requisite slices of mozzarella and tomato topped with a generous amount of fresh basil, but they were beautifully fanned across the plate with a cluster of colorful lettuces on top and accompanied by a zigzagging drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a stripe of basil oil. The tender mozzarella was uncharacteristically flavorful; the tomatoes were sweet and ripe.

Insalata caprese elevates tomatoes and mozzarella with this creative approach. Insalata caprese elevates tomatoes and mozzarella with this creative approach. A crab cake ($10) appetizer contained two cakes that were nicely seasoned, but the crab was finely mashed. I prefer the Maryland-style in which there are big chunks of crabmeat and a minimal amount of breading. Nonetheless, the chef dressed these up well with roasted red pepper aioli accompanied by dried cherry apple slaw that was both pretty and delicious with its mix of dried cherries, apples, red onions, carrots and cabbage.

The seared scallops entrée ($27) contained big, meaty scallops that were expertly seared then paired with roasted potatoes, asparagus and mushroom ragout with a light balsamic glaze. This dish illustrated the chef’s savvy for balancing flavors and textures without overdoing it, conjuring up a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

The nightly special was mee grob ($22), which is Thai for “crispy noodles.” Our server described it as having a bed of crisp noodles topped with beef, pork and shrimp along with vegetables and herbs. It, too, was beautifully presented, appropriately in a deep oblong bowl filled to the brim. Although the broth quickly rendered the noodles mushy, its flavor when combined with the proteins, carrots, sprouts, mint and cilantro more than made up for it. There was plenty to eat without the noodles and the fresh, light flavors were perfect on a hot summer night.

Speaking of perfect on a hot summer night, I highly recommend one of the homemade ice creams for dessert. We shared a large scoop of swirled berry ice cream ($5) with a sweet vanilla base studded with berries. (Other options on this evening were vanilla or cappuccino.) Fresh raspberries and blackberries balanced the sweetness of the ice cream assisted by a tart raspberry sauce that I could have drunk straight from the container. Elegantly presented in a martini glass, this was a great dessert.

Yanos wasn’t very busy on the evening after Art Walk. I suppose that most people who chose to head downtown did so the previous night. For that reason, business was on the slow side the night of our visit. Nonetheless, the two servers were on their toes, quickly greeting and seating new arrivals, making sure glasses were full and dishes came out hot and fresh.

While the food is contemporary, the music harkened back to the salad days of baby boomers with lots of Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes and even a touch of the Archies (who can forget the group’s singular hit, “Sugar Sugar”?). Whether you like the tunes of that particular era or not, they were cranked down to a level that allowed conversation without shouting, something this baby boomer appreciates.

There are all sorts of reasons to head downtown Fort Myers these days, with all the art galleries, bars with live music, special events and a growing number of stores. For those who love fine food and wine, Yanos provides reason enough for a visit. ¦

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