Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Bay House, Naples, Florida

Chef Andy Hunter's BBQ Catfish with Pickled Veg Slaw
When you decide to write a food blog, it becomes incumbent on you to find great eats and enjoy to your heart's content.  I'm always keeping my eyes and ears out for the next new thing to try or place to go.  But sometimes, great food finds its way directly to me and that's exactly how I found myself at the Bay House some weeks ago.

If you are in Naples for any length of time, you're likely to have heard about the Bay House, a fine dining waterfront restaurant tucked away on Walkerbilt Road.  With its large open windows and tranquil views of the Cocohatchee River, it's a favored spot for Sunday brunches and intimate dinners.  It's a favorite of Naples seasonal residents and the writers of the Lilly Pulitzer travel blog too.  The rave reviews are in large part due to the genius of the Bay House's Chef Andy Hunter and his creative menus.

I count myself lucky to have met Chef Andy's wife, Lyn, a few years ago when our girls joined the same Girl Scout troop.  In addition to a shared appreciation for literature, quick wit and female empowerment, we both know good food when we taste it.  Admittedly though, Lyn has the upper hand on me in that department.  Anna, whose spent a few nights over at the Hunters, tells me that Chef Andy makes the best breakfast bacon from scratch and now she's spoiled for life.  If only I could have my own professional chef!  But Lyn does.  So, when she texted me in mid-July and invited me to be her guest for a Chef's Dinner at the Bay House, I answered with an emphatic "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

The Chef's Dinner experience at the Bay House is no ordinary dining experience.  At 7 p.m. on Saturday nights, in the restaurant's intimate private dining room, Chef Andy hosts a lucky few who partake of a multi-course tasting menu that varies weekly.  Starting with appetizers, moving into entrees and ending with dessert, the Chef's Dinner presents each diner with sumptuous tasting bites that highlight Chef Andy's well honed and artistic culinary skill.  The service of each dish is accompanied by a short presentation from the Chef himself, giving insight into the composition and inspiration of each dish, a presentation that not only whets your appetite but sends your taste buds in search of those inspirational nuggets.  Not to be ignored, the wine connoisseurs amongst the diners also get a table side presentation from the Bay House's sommelier, Jon Roberson, and generous pours of the recommended wines.  Not simply a dinner, the Chef's Dinner experience is enlightening and a treat for anyone with a genuine appreciation for the art of food.

On the occasion of my invitation to the Bay House, I had the pleasure of enjoying a number of dishes.  Some familiar to me from past Bay House trips, and some brand new.  Among my old favorites is Chef Andy's "Yankee" cornbread, described by the Chef to be a northern version of the southern favorite sweetened with sugar to suit the yankee palate.  Served simply alongside house made pickles and deviled eggs, the sweet and tart tastes were perfect starters to the dinner, awakening the taste buds for the dishes to come, which included a fried oyster on cucumber sauce and a lovely smoked onion soup.

Fried Oyster with Cucumber Sauce

A surprising and welcome highlight to the meal was the watermelon granita.  Although an obvious palate cleanser, the granita stood on its own ground.  Refreshing and sweet, paying homage to the end of the summer with its cool taste of watermelon, it was a perfect precursor to Chef Andy's next dish.

If I had to vote on an absolute favorite, the BBQ catfish would have been my chosen winner of the Chef's Dinner tasting menu.  Like the granita, it too was a welcome salutation to a traditional summer taste.  Not appearing to be a barbecue dish, its flavors certainly harkened to barbecue's sweet and tangy tastes.  And since barbecue ribs are a perennial at my home, this dish spoke right to me.  What was so great about this dish, is that is didn't need to be "true" barbecue to taste like barbecue.  And it's that kind of creative attention to flavor that separates the cook from the Chef.

The catfish was followed by a country fried pork tenderloin, served over a bed of white cannellini beans, dotted with a sweet n' savory red pepper jelly, and surrounded by a swath of white country gravy.  And to cap off the night, a piece de resistance:  a banana pudding encased in a chocolate shell, melted by hot fudge poured table side to make for a decadent ending.  Both dishes were a delightful finish to a great southern-inspired meal.  

The Chef's Dinner is a "can't miss" experience and I count myself lucky to have been invited to share such a wonderful meal.  And although each plate came only with small tastes (it is after all a tasting menu), my belly was certainly full and my taste buds satisfied.  As I drove home, with my own mini-loaf of Chef Andy's Yankee cornbread to share with a rather jealous Anna, I knew that it wouldn't be long before I would be back to the Bay House.  In fact, I came back just two days there after with colleagues in tow.  That's how much I loved it, and I know you will too.

Country Fried Pork Tenderloin served over cannelli beans and accompanied by white gravy and pepper jelly

The Chef's Dinners at the Bay House are offered every Saturday evening at 7 p.m. at a price of $65 per person ($35 additional per person for wine pairings).  Seating is limited so reservations are highly recommended.  799 Walkerbilt Road, Naples, Florida, (239) 591-3837

The Bay House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 comment:

  1. Best pimento cheese since my childhood (bar menu) and, in season, a grill out front for oysters. It's a wonderful place!