Bistro Soleil, located in the Old Marco Island Inn, is a new restaurant within a Marco Island institution. Chef Denis Meurgue and his wife Lisa launched their venture in the 100-plus-year-old inn at the northern tip of Marco Island in time for the 2009 tourist season, so Islanders have had a chance to savor the results of their approach to French cuisine, married to a quintessential Marco Island location. “We were delighted to have the chance to open our bistro in such a beautiful spot,” said co-owner, Meurgue. “Every restaurateur would be happy to have a location like this.
“This place has history, charm and everybody knows it already,” said Denis. “Here, we are not just a restaurant, we are a destination. You have a place to eat, a place to stay, a place to listen to music, a place for banquets … we’re marrying the old with the new.
“You will find some bistros in Paris. A French bistro has a lot of the things you look for in French dining – the onion soup, the escargot, the pate de foie gras – so people are coming for that. What you don’t have is the price.”
The Meurgues have worked hard to keep prices low at Bistro Soleil, and are offering specials every day. The restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday during the summer months. Denis also adjusts his food palette in the summer months, offering lighter dishes and cold soups, and de-emphasizing the heavy, cream-based sauces for which French cooking is known.
“It would be easy to shut it down in the summer, but we have a responsibility to our employees,” said Denis. “Also, we have loyalty to the year-round residents of Marco Island. We should be open for them.”
The Meurgues are no strangers to the people of Marco Island or to the art of cooking fine food in a tropical climate. The two met when they both worked at Club Med Ixtapa, in Mexico, and Denis has served as executive chef at some renowned resorts, including Caneel Bay on St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Little Dix Bay, in the BVI, and the Biltmore, in Coral Gables, Fla.
Between these and other stops, including Chicago and Ireland, they also made friends on Marco Island when they operated the Island Café. While Denis rules the kitchen, Lisa, along with manager Bob Boone, handles the front of the house.
“For me personally, the secret to success is getting to know your customers,” she said. “People love it when they walk in the door and you know their names. People will ask me, ‘What was that bottle of wine we had?’ and I remember. I don’t know how,” she added with a laugh.
Speaking of wine, Denis has revamped the wine list at Bistro Soleil. “We are a French bistro, so of course we have French wines,” he said. “But some of the French wines have become way too expensive.” To address that, the restaurant has added wines from California, Italy, Australia and Argentina.
“We have an Acacia pinot noir, from California, and a dry rosé, Tavel, from France, which is very good, and a new sauvignon blanc, which is perfect for hot weather.” But when it comes to champagne, said Denis, it is France all the way. “There is no alternative. Who do you talk about when you talk about champagne?” His passion for all things gastronomic comes through clearly.
While the food is paramount — both the steak and the frites in one of the restaurant’s signature dishes are delectable, and customers are effusive about the quality of their choices — Bistro Soleil’s location presents a lovely backdrop to any meal. One of the first buildings on the Island, the inn features statuary, fountains and lush landscaping outside and period touches, such as embossed tin ceiling panels, an elegant cherrywood buffet and a chandelier once owned by Guy Lombardo, inside.
It all adds up to a wonderful dining experience. “We loved it — dinner was very, very, very good, said Lee Ross, gathering up a bag of beignets (pastries) he was too full to eat.
“Really excellent — the service was beyond our greatest expectations,” agreed his wife Trish. The couple dined on tomato bisque and black grouper, and said they were back for the fifth time.
IF YOU GO
100 Palm Street, inside the Olde Marco Island Inn and Suites, Telephone: 389-0981
Hours: Dinner only; 5:30 p.m. to closing, Tuesday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to closing, Friday and Saturday
Entertainment: Dan Vass on piano, Friday and Saturday nights
All major credit cards accepted
Prices: Reasonable by local standards
Takeout, banquets and catering available
Special recommendations: Baked brie, escargot, pate, steak frites, roast duck, crème brulee, summer specials