Boulevardiers who stroll past the Irish pubs, euro bistros, English tearooms and all-American ice cream and fudge shops this season in Naples will find that Fifth Avenue South takes a new turn. It slyly becomes the Silk Road leading into the exquisite mysteries of ancient Persia, perfumed with the aromas of saffron, cardamom and mint and styled with modern chic of pomegranate crimson walls and swirling sand dune sculptures.
This exotic cuisine is more than a decade old in Naples. What’s new is that Michael Mir has moved Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro into sleek quarters on Fifth, giving his dishes a sophisticated home.
They deserve it, for Persian cooking is much more than kabobs. Khoreshes mix meat and fruit into bright stews of lamb and plum or shrimp and apricot. Iranians loved pistachios, walnuts, home-made yogurt and pomegranates before they became gourmet stars.
Try a snack of bademjune — fried eggplant with yogurt-like whey and olive or mixed with lentils, walnut and mint — that will make you forget the hummus of your former life. Add minty lamb pistachio meatballs, and you have a mazzeh of small bites to fill an adventurous gourmet. To make a full meal of Persian delights, go for fruitful duck fesenjune, braised in turmeric with pomegranate, walnuts, carrots and apricots. Entrees are between $20 and $35. There’s a thoroughly modern martini list flavored with rosewater, tamarind, sour cherry and cardamom. Wine and spirits are well-chosen and naturally include a fine cabernet from Darioush, the Napa vineyard.
Fifth Avenue in downtown Naples has another new source of lamb and walnuts (and much more) with a Sicilian accent at Osteria Tulia. Chef Vincenzo Betulia, formerly of beloved Campiello, and his family take diners back to Italian cooking of a more rustic time. There are dishes like Tuscan chicken livers and fried egg, chickpea flat bread, porchetta and white beans or garganelli in lamb sauce on the plates. Tulia makes its own pasta, sausage and ricotta, and it roasts meats and mushrooms over a wood fire. Pizzas start at $10, pasta plates are less than $20 and entrees top out at $33. Beverages show extra style, too. The bar is stocked with Italian amaro, exotic bitters and Calabrian chile, and rare Italian craft beer.
Chapel Grill breaks the downtown Naples mold by daring diners off Fifth, all of two blocks south, and into the old First Baptist Church next to City Hall. Completely and brightly redone, the dining is updated, too. Owner Stephen Fleischer and chef Jorge Nolasco have assembled a menu that gives clubby comforts hearty and modern twists for lunch and dinner. Burgers and sliders are made with Kobe beef, chicken wings come with gorgonzola crème fraiche and the grilled cheese is loaded with St. Andre and Manchego as well as swiss. Dinner entrees range from $23 to $33 and include prime rib and butter poached lobster and porcini-dusted snapper with saffron risotto and seafood puttanesca