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Come Sails Away

Sails Restaurant

301 Fifth Avenue South, Naples, Fl

The word pretentious is thrown around all too often these days. I think it's time we really look at the word and what it means. If someone is pretentious it means they are literally pretending to be something they are not, pretending to know things they do not know, or pretending to enjoy things simply because of the way it appears to others. There seem to be two places where pretension runs amuck, artistic circles ("Street art is so last week, I'm really into conceptual clog dancing") and well-to-do enclaves like Naples. Since I haven't seen any Banksys pop up in town lately, let's talk about the latter and its effect on food and drink.

If you've read anything here prior, you'll learn that I try not to discriminate between fine food and comfort food. As long as it's delicious with quality ingredients and offers deliciousness, I'm in. I don't care if it's lobster tail or gator tail (fun fact: until well into the 20th century, lobster was considered poor people/peasant food. It wasn't until it was overfished that it became the luxury item we know today), as long as it's tasty, I will enjoy it. The same goes with service and ambiance. Make me comfortable, give me good music or something visually interesting and know the menu, and I'm golden. I've been called pretentious more often than I'd like in life, but the fact is, I come from very modest means (my close friends are very sick of the stories about me working summers in a sundry and cigarette warehouse in high school) and everything I like, I like for a reason. The reason is I truly enjoy it. I would never order anything to impress my dinner companion(s). The only time I order with my companions thoughts in mind is to share something I truly enjoy, whether it's a pilsner or a primitivo, fois gras or fried pickles.

I bring this up because occasionally places and patrons in Naples have a tendency to go for label over substance. There's a reason why Waygu is advertised everywhere (even though most of it is American or Australian, not the authentic Japanese), and so many wine lists have an overabundance of three number Napa Cabs on the menu. I'm not saying a good Waygu steak can't be delicious, or there aren't any good Napa Cabs (Silver Oak is good and I'm quite fond of what local heroes The Gargiulos do in Napa), but sometimes the only difference between those items and something more pedestrian is the price and what the person who is ordering it is trying to present about themselves. I'm not saying you can't love those things, I'm just saying frequently it's the price tag and the appearance that's the draw.

With this in mind, Boy Wonder, WAJ, the Neon Captain and I headed down to Sails for an intimate guys dinner. Sails is likely the most expensive dining experience town, and I had heard they had recently moved to a prix fixe menu with a pretty hefty price tag. This was causing some consternation amongst even the most ardent Sails fans, but I wanted to experience it for myself and make my own conclusion.

The first thing you will notice about Sails is the attention to detail in their service. Every door is held open with a pleasantry by the mostly Eastern European staff. "Thank you for joining us" is as common as hello. You are welcomed as if you are a member of a very exclusive club. I went looking for the bathroom midway through the meal and didn't want to ask directions because I didn't want to appear like I wasn't a regular (double negative, sorry 11th grade English teacher). Neon Captain and I were wearing white shirts so they traded out our napkins for a color that wouldn't potentially bleed onto our clothing (without us asking) and handed out all the napkins with tongs.

Obsequious? Sure, but definitely worthy of the DeNiro impressed face.

The decor is pretty much white leather fancy. The cushions on the booth are a nice touch though. As far as the menu, the prix fixe gives you two options for the same price; Three or four courses depending on portion size. A nice touch is that you can turn your dessert course into a savory and either skip dessert or add it on on the back end.

After enjoying my standard "nice meal starter drink" Hendrick's Martini up with a twist (vermouth please. Without vermouth, it's not a martini, it's a glass of gin or vodka that's cold), the server brought us the ubiquitous but always welcome chef's compliments amuse bouche. Simple, elegant, one bite that might have been a light ceviche, but honestly, I don't remember. Either way, a nice starter touch. One nice bi-product of Sails' switch in menus is that they no longer bring you the fish to show off the fresh catch. I always found it weird when restaurants introduce you to your dinner. I don't want my steakhouse to have a feedlot outside for me to pick out my ribeye.

I opened for the four-course plus dessert add-on. After convincing Neon Captain to eschew his Napa Cab for a more adventurous Old World Corbieres, our starters arrived.

My first course was a foie gras pate with pomegranate seeds and some sort of sweet jam. Ever since my mother spread chopped liver (which I was) on a saltine, I have loved any form of liver spread. This was no different. Creamy, slightly sweet yet salty and pungent and the crunch of the dried pomegranates made for a nice contrast to the softness of the pate. I liked that the small toastette was there not so much to eat, but as a reminder that you COULD spread this on a piece of bread, but why bother when it's so good standing on its own.

Next up was a sort-of deconstructed Mediterranean salad with crispy peas. I'm pretty sure deconstructed food means no lettuce if its a salad (even though a good Greek salad should never have lettuce), or no bread if its a deconstructed sandwich. Anyway, this was extremely delicious. Remember, a tomato is a fruit and this showed why. The acid of the tomato balanced nicely with the feta and the crispy peas added just the right sense of crunch. All salads should have some crunchy elements and it was nice to see Sails opting to use a dehydrated pea rather than resort to some sort of cooked bread. Croutons, you are on notice, your days being the only crunchy game in salad town are over.

If there's a word stronger than love that applies to food, please use that word to describe my adoration of clams (also, The Adoration of the Clams is a little known sequel to The Silence of the Lambs) so naturally, my third course was going to be the linguine with clams. To be fair, I usually blindly order clams and don't consider how they are being prepared, but I was a little taken aback when my clams arrived in a sweet sauce. My first bite was "hmmm..interesting." Not bad, not great. However, one of the true marks of great food is that it gets better as you enjoy it. I would never think to make a clam dish sweet, but somehow this works. The little hint of heat on the back end really helped to drive that point home. A must-try when you go. Anytime you can reinvent a simple pasta and seafood dish flavor-wise, I'm sold.

For my main, I opted for the dover sole. The presentation was unique as they included the filet-out ribcage as part of the presentation. After fantasizing about being a cross between Fred Flintstone and Lionel Hampton, I opted to eat the dish and not play the fish-rib marimba. This was probably the weakest link of the meal. The sauce was quite good, butter and elegant, not overdone with what was probably white wine, and there was a fantastic piece of marinated grapefruit at the bottom, but the fish didn't mesh well with the sauce. It just kind of laid in there. I understand you can't drown your seafood (oh the irony), but a bit of a drizzle of the tasty sauce might have helped round out the dish.

Neon Captain insisted on the souffle for the dessert.

Dark chocolate outside with a light creme chocolate poured inside dressed with what they called ice cream, but was more like a super fluffy whipped cream. It went well with the last of the Rhone that I has switched to, but to be honest I far preferred Boy Wonder's sticky toffee tart with sea salt.

Frankly speaking, I was expecting Sails to be all sizzle and no (Waygu) steak. I was pleasantly surprised that despite all the pomp, circumstance and price point, it's an exceptional meal. With the prix fixe menu, I don't think it's going to be that frequent occurrence but if you feel like dropping a few bucks on an experience as much as a meal, you're probably not going to do better than Sails.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go make a sign for tonight's AEW Dynamite show at Hertz Arena. My boy MJF's gonna get some revenge on that traitorous powerbombing snake, Wardlow.

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