Valentine's Day is the perfect time to give dining out without kids a try. With so many good restaurants in town, it was hard to choose where to go. I considered several others (see sidebar) before deciding on The Grill at the Ritz-Carlton at Vanderbilt Beach. We had planned to go there for dinner last year, but had to cancel at the last minute and my husband always talked about how he wanted to try it, but we never had. This was the perfect excuse!
When we walked into the hotel, I got a little nervous about my choice. It’s such a lovely hotel, but very kid-friendly. And while I usually appreciate that, for this night I wanted no sippy cups, no melt-downs, no crying: in other words, no kids. So I was a little hesitant when I saw an infant in a stroller and some elementary school-aged kids in swim cover-ups in the lobby. But once we turned down the corridor to The Grill, I felt as if we were in a decidedly grown-up setting.
While I usually enjoy Naples casual dress–I live in jeans and flip-flops–it was a refreshing change to get dressed up for the night. Most of the other diners were wearing dresses or nice pants and all of the men were wearing jackets. The hostess greeted us warmly and led us to a large booth where we were seated side-by-side instead of across from each other. It felt romantic and also gave us a view of the room, which is decorated in rich woods with an elegant country-club feel. There was a singer/piano player, and the music provided a nice background for the room.
Once seated we were offered our choice of water: Evian, San Pellegrino or tap. We went with Naples’ finest tap water. Next, a bread plate arrived with hot homemade pretzels, onion rolls and honey wheat rolls and butter. Our waiter served us crudité and onion dip as well and we happily perused the extensive wine list. We are not big wine experts, but our waiter talked us through the wine list without making us feel stupid. He offered to send the sommelier over to help, but after he brought us samples of two delicious wines, we decided to stick with his recommendations and were not disappointed with either the Riesling or Cabernet that we ordered.
Next, we tackled the menu.
Usually I start with a salad, but this was a special place so I splurged and got a mushroom ravioli with truffle appetizer. It was excellent and though very rich, the portion was perfectly sized: just two raviolis in the creamy sauce, which was enough to appreciate it without getting too full. My husband also liked his yellowfin tuna tartar, sashimi, avocado and ginger cream appetizer.
While there were interesting fish, meat and vegetarian options, we were there for steak. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t really like filet mignon: it’s too thick. Our waiter suggested the Delmonico and it was good, though at 16 oz. a little too big for me. My husband got the 22 oz. Ribeye and proclaimed it the best steak he’s had in Naples. He loves to go out for steak so this was high praise.
Torn between several of the side items, we again asked our waiter for help. He was knowledgeable and gave an honest opinion. I hate when I ask a waiter for advice and he responds with “everything’s good here.” I need input! So, when we couldn’t decide between creamed spinach or mashed potatoes, our waiter surprised us by suggesting we go with the scalloped potatoes to get both the creaminess of the spinach and a potato. He was right-on: they were delicious. We also got the tiny green beans, which were simple and provided a nice counter-balance to the heavy potatoes and steaks.
When we placed our order, the waiter told us they had chocolate or key lime soufflé with vanilla sauce, which had to be ordered with the main course. I knew I wanted the chocolate, but my husband thought we’d be too full to each get our own so he insisted we only order one to share. I was feeling greedy and did not like this plan at all, so I was quite pleased when our waiter came out with two soufflés! He said there was an extra one in the kitchen and that it would keep the fighting to a minimum if we each had our own. I don’t know if he could read my mind or if the fact that I was 9 months pregnant did the trick, but it was a welcome surprise. My husband also enjoyed French press coffee along with his dessert.
After we were through, we sat for a while just enjoying the music and ambiance. The check arrived with some little chocolate cookies that we thought we were too full to eat, but that looked too good to ignore. They were decadent. And, when we left the restaurant, the hostess gave us a small bag of chocolate covered almonds to take with us. We were definitely too stuffed to eat them, but knew that our babysitter would appreciate the treat.
We walked around the hotel grounds after our meal, taking in the lights around the pool and walking down to the beach, which was illuminated by a bright, shiny moon and we talked about how lucky we are to live in Naples. With a new baby about to join our family, we knew this was probably our last night like this for a while and we savored every moment.
The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, 280 Vanderbilt Beach Rd., 598-3300 • www.ritzcarlton.com. Reservations recommended.
Got a sitter? Here are some other restaurants to consider for a special meal without children.
Artisans in the Dining Room: at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples; the only AAA Five Diamond restaurant in Southwest Fla.
Bleu Provence: Run by a retired couple from Provence, France with a romantic patio and extensive wine list.
Blue Heron Inn: Intimate, waterfront dining on the Isle of Capri.
Coast: Indoor/outdoor dining at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
Le Lafayette: Stunning patio in a quiet setting
just off Third St.
Ristorante Ciao: Traditional Italian menu served by the same chef/owner since 1987.
Sale e Pepe: Italian fare served underneath frescos painted on stone walls inside the Marco Beach Ocean Hotel.