2011-12-14 / Cuisine

A Table Apart continues to set the bar high

Chef Jeff Acol and his wife, Jessica, made a lot of smart choices when they opened A Table Apart three years ago.

With 15 tables, the restaurant on Bonita Beach Road is small, which keeps overhead low, creates an aura of exclusivity and intimacy and enables the house to treat patrons with undivided attention. The small but diverse menu spans the globe, embracing classic French techniques, bold Asian flavors and even a bit of Italian pasta panache while emphasizing a commitment to sustainable seafood and seasonal ingredients.

Husband and wife are veterans of the former Registry Resort in Naples as well as several other resorts in Florida and Hawaii. He’s a Cordon Bleu-trained native of Hawaii; she’s French and holds a degree in hotel/restaurant management.

All of which begins to help explain why A Table Apart is, well, an experience apart from most Southwest Florida restaurants. The food is sophisticated but unfussy, ambitious but not overworked, classical yet novel. Oh, and it serves the best French fries you will ever eat in Southwest Florida.


A flatiron steak gets dressed up with house-smoked blue cheese and roasted tomatoes. A flatiron steak gets dressed up with house-smoked blue cheese and roasted tomatoes. I had the opportunity to revisit A Table Apart recently and was pleased to see that it has lost none of its luster. The restaurant closes during the summer, and I imagine taking a break gives the Acols a chance to recharge their batteries and renew their dedication to making this a truly memorable restaurant.

Where to start? The wine list offers some interesting choices by the glass. We enjoyed a pinot gris from King Estate in Oregon ($11) and Sileni Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand ($9) with our appetizers.

You can start with “snacks” of Asianflavored boiled peanuts, Madeira-infused chicken liver pate or the famous pommes frites (with or without truffle oil) for $3 to $5. The pate was tempting, but we decided to dive straight into appetizers, which are pricier at $9 to $14.


Plump mussels are laced with chorizo and cilantro pesto. Plump mussels are laced with chorizo and cilantro pesto. The chorizo mejillones ($14) is simply one of the best mussel preparations I have eaten in a couple of decades of reviewing restaurants. Imagine the flavor explosion of spicy Mexican chorizo sausage, acidic white wine and tomatoes, grassy cilantro pesto and creamy queso fresco. Picture these colorful toppings mingling with a dozen and a half plump mussels sautéed until they are just barely cooked through and not a second more. Now, don’t forget to dip the toasted bread into the bottom of the bowl, where the flavors of all these ingredients pool together in a complex, briny broth. Mussels can be pretty mundane, but these would lure even a hater out of his shell.

Quesadillas generally don’t generate a lot of excitement either. Maybe I eat too many at home. But never have I tasted a tortilla and cheese combination quite like Chef Acol’s Hawaiian kalua pig quesadilla ($9). A luau staple, kalua pig is wrapped in tea leaves and roasted slowly for a long time. The meat comes out moist and toothsome, and here it was tucked into tortillas along with provolone and queso fresco, which raised the creaminess factor through the roof. A balsamic onion confit added sweetness, while a chipotle tomato jam brought a smoky lushness to the dish.


Arctic char, the fish of the day, is served with tomato-olive tapenade, grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes. Arctic char, the fish of the day, is served with tomato-olive tapenade, grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes. Our attentive server clearly was keeping an eye on things from afar, only approaching the table when it appeared that we were ready, whisking away used dishes and keeping water glasses filled throughout the evening. Ms. Acol also circulated around the room, ensuring quality control.


A stack of quesadilla slices stuffed with succulent pork and topped with balsamic onions. A stack of quesadilla slices stuffed with succulent pork and topped with balsamic onions. We settled on the fish of the day, Arctic char ($26), which is closely related to salmon and trout. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch rates it among its best choices for sustainability.

The char was simply grilled and simply perfect: moist, flaky, slightly less oily than salmon. It was a large fillet topped with a sweet-salty tomato-olive tapenade that stood up to the strong flavor of the fish. Grilled yellow squash, zucchini and asparagus were nicely charred and tender-crisp. The garlic mashed potatoes were fine.

Meats are executed equally well, as evidenced by an expertly crusted, juicy flatiron steak ($23). The 8-ounce portion was just right, especially since it was topped with rich blue cheese that’s smoked in-house. I never realized that blue cheese could be improved upon, but smoking it turns out to be a terrific idea. The acid in the roasted tomatoes on top helped balance the flavor profile of the dish.


Okinawa sweet potato pie is topped with a coconut custard. Okinawa sweet potato pie is topped with a coconut custard. Why bother with mashed potatoes on the side when you can substitute pommes frites drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese for a couple more bucks? Truth is, this is probably the best way to order these crispy, fluffy treasures paired with luscious garlic aioli; if you get them as a starter, you will want to finish the basket and you’ll probably end up full before the main course. Even as a side, the basket is gluttonously large. You’ll need everyone at the table to pitch in — and they won’t mind.

After all, it would be a shame not to have room for dessert, such as the unforgettable Okinawa sweet potato pie ($7). It’s a purple sweet potato filling topped with a sort of coconut custard —visually startling and simply scrumptious.

From appetizers to dessert, A Table Apart certainly lives up to its name. ¦

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