755 12th Avenue South, Naples, FL
Where: 755 12th Ave. S
Contact: 643-6177, www.bamboocafenaples.com
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Cuisine: French and North African
Beverages: Full bar, plus extensive wine list heavy on French wines
Atmosphere: Upscale casual
Prices: Appetizers start at $5.95, entrées in the $20s, desserts from $6.50
Recommended dishes: mussels ($10.50), crispy duck with orange sauce ($27.95), steak frites ($24.95), Napoleon with fruit ($8.25), creme brulée ($6.50)
Verdict: For the most part, the food was good to excellent. But throughout the service was weak and at times just plain poor. If you are patient, both with your time and your servers, you will be rewarded with a good meal.
NAPLES — In every facet of the restaurant industry, attention to detail is paramount.
Cook that steak a couple of minutes too long and it goes from a perfectly pink medium rare to a gray overdone. Put a fork with spots on it down on the table and you make an immediate bad first impression.
That’s why it takes a special breed of person to make a restaurant successful. You need to be a manic personality with a nearly photographic memory. And then you need to double-check everything.
Over the course of two meals at Bamboo Café in downtown Naples, what could have been great dining experiences were marred not by massive mistakes but by a series of little errors.
Both times the food bordered on fantastic. The crispy duck ($27.95) sang with its delicate orange sauce, hitting the high notes perfectly. The mussels appetizer ($10.95) overflowed from its metal crock. They were plump and complemented by a wonderfully acidic garlic broth that begged to be sopped up with the crusty bread on the table.
The restaurant served two of the best desserts I’ve tasted all year — a towering and decadent Napoleon ($8.25) filled with delicate whipped cream and fresh fruit and a creme brulée ($6.50), which pulled off the creamy/crunchy contrast to sweet perfection.
Other dishes weren’t necessarily revelatory — a fine take on steak frites ($24.95), a heavily spiced lamb tangine ($22.95) — but were solid.
But the details in some simple dishes were off. The onion soup ($5.95) could have used a less liberal helping of herbes de Provence and a more robust broth. The pork paté (8.95) should have been brought up closer to room temperature so it was more easily spreadable and the flavors weren’t so muted.
The sole Francese ($22.95) was delicious, but the vegetable medley on the side was woefully undercooked and greasy. And the yellow rice was almost inedible.
The same goes for the tarte Tatin ($6.50). The apples on top were the consistency of applesauce and bitter to boot. Only the healthy helping of vanilla ice cream ($2.50 extra) made the dish palatable.
My biggest complaint with both of our meals was the service.
On our first visit, we were seated out on the patio. It was a perfectly cool night and we could catch glimpses of the boat parade passing by the nearby city dock. The tables on either side of us were filled. The table behind us ended up with our meal and ate most of it before complaining and getting profuse apologies from the management.
We, on the other hand, were only told that the kitchen was taking a little bit longer with our meal, even though we could obviously hear what was happening.
The other table was occupied by a couple of tourists who wanted nothing more than to enjoy dining al fresco in December. They almost didn’t get the chance. If it wasn’t for my wife alerting the wait staff that they hadn’t had any service in 30 minutes of waiting, they might have gone the whole night without ordering a meal.
Our second visit yielded more attentive service, but in often bizarre fashion. The server told us there were two entrée specials and then promptly left our table after telling us only one. When I inquired about the special escargot appetizer, he said: “They are the best in town, or so I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know.”
I appreciate the honesty, but servers should know the menu inside and out. An attentive chef makes sure his or her servers are familiar with everything being served.
And by the end of the night, our server had unbuttoned two buttons from his shirt. That’s not really a problem, but it was another little detail — one that Bamboo Cafe ended up on the wrong side.
Connect with Jonathan Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster