by Kelly Merritt and Kathleen Farrell
When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the line, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world,” he probably wasn’t talking about sister restaurants Mereday’s Fine Dining and Alto Live Jazz Kitchen in Naples. But both places sure embody what he meant.
All the cool cats are strutting to Alto Live Jazz Kitchen. It’s the new jazz/dinner club in Naples by the same culinary mind that ushered in Mereday’s Fine Dining at Naples Bay Resort. The brainchild of Chef Charles Mereday, Alto is another gem in his company 2nd Generation Hospitality, through which he repurposes former restaurants into new venues. The space that became Alto was unoccupied for years, but now sings out with live music by renowned Grammy-award winning musicians and superb dining by Executive Chef Nadir Sherwani.
Aided by stellar service orchestrated by General Manager Kevin Kaczmarek, Alto has become the ‘it’ place to be.
That feel of 1960’s bebop era jazz is reflected in the lighting which Mereday was fortunate to inherit from the previous space. The rest of the restaurant is a large space accented with mahogany wood, mirrored walls and muted chandeliers. The restaurant is a fine dining establishment with live music, so the stage is set at the front of the space with not a bad seat in the house. Three booths near the stage offer a more intimate setting while still being close enough to see the light twinkling off the saxophones.
Evenings at Alto begin with a comfortable level of ambient light, but as the sun goes down, the space eases into the cozy warmth of an old-school dinner club, aided considerably by sipping on the restaurant’s signature Sidecar cocktail – Naples newest excuse to celebrate with another drink. If you close your eyes, you can just imagine Grant Green at the Blue Note.
Alto’s menu is full of superstars, too. Chef Sherwani takes no prisoners with items like Bourbon chicken liver pate, Fontina béchamel crepes with white truffle oil and raw tomato sauce and an otherworldly Atlantic salmon tempura dish with parsnip puree, enoki mushroom, spinach, watercress and mirin glaze. Even the pommes frites here aren’t typical potatoes – such crispy, salty goodness they just disappear from the plate. Chef Sherwani’s chicken noodle soup, like everything else at Alto is quite out of the everyday. It’s a meal in itself, served with a little crostini and fried quail egg on top.
Don’t underestimate the flatbread here and the Alto menu features four devilish rustic versions of it. The smoked salmon flatbread is prepared with farm eggs, crème friache, red onion confit, chive, Osetra caviar, capers and Meyer lemon. Cheese lovers shouldn’t miss the French feta and fresh mozzarella with tomatoes, kalamatas, basil, oregano and extra virgin olive oil. The meat flatbread arrives at table brimming with salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, onion, tomatoes, parmesan and arugula. But the end-all, be-all flatbread has to be Chef Sherwani’s lamb and beef kefta flatbread, which he prepares with tzatziki, tomatoes, onions, shaved celery, rocket, lemon and truffled pecorino.
Across the Gordon River at Naples Bay Resort is Alto’s sister success story, Mereday’s Fine Dining. Chef Mereday did the same thing with Mereday’s that he did for Alto. He took an existing space, refined it and with Mereday’s Executive Chef Joe Pittman conjured a menu that is the epicurean answer to destination dining in Naples. What there is to say about the food at Mereday’s can be summed up in one of the most famous culinary lines ever written about eating well, courtesy of George Bernard Shaw: “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” Every Mereday’s dish and wine pairing seems so painstakingly thought out that it’s not hard to imagine culinary travelers vacationing in Naples just to eat there.
Mereday’s menu changes daily but a few favorites since opening have included the escargot with pistou cream, a foie gras torchon with black truffle and sauternes gelee and flawlessly seared scallops with baby carrots and parsnip puree. The Creole shrimp with Nueskie’s bacon and stone ground cheddar grits has taken the medal for best shrimp and grits in town while items like the sous vide rack of Colorado lamb with cucumber salad and mint yogurt could convert even the staunchest vegetarian.
Desserts at Mereday’s also impress with highlights like mocha pots de crème, sticky toffee pudding with brown butter ice cream and Earl Grey sorbet with cranberry orange scone and steeped milk.
In the main dining room diners select from a two-, three- or four-course menu or from an a la carte bar menu. Mereday’s is a place to savor the evening – not to be in a hurry or persnickety. It is all about relaxing into the joy of dining. That includes the wine list, which is expertly paired to enhance and echo the food. Recently pairings have included the 2006 Delectus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the Francois Montand Sparkling Brut and the succulent 2012 Macon Pierreclos Chardonnay. The pricing is as follows: two courses $55, with wine pairing $85; three courses $75, with wine pairing $115; and, four courses $95, with wine pairing $145.
Then there’s the bar at Mereday’s. Gourmands know it as one of the best kept secrets in Naples because it’s the best value in town for fine food. All appetizers and entrées meet the same rigorous standards set forth by Chefs Mereday and Pittman.
But you can be in and out in no time and still get a gourmet fix unlike anywhere else.