Home Food Life, Dinner at Liberty and the Pursuit of Southwest Florida Cuisine

Life, Dinner at Liberty and the Pursuit of Southwest Florida Cuisine

Short rib with mole sauce, almond and shallot
Open kitchen

Liberty is a restaurant that, as of this writing, opened four months ago in Fort Myers. The proprietor was one of the chef-owners at Cru, a restaurant that recently closed after 15 years in business.

My dining companion and I went here after seeing very favorable reports online and wanted to see what all the buzz was about.
The restaurant is very small and intimate, seating around 32 diners.

One thing I instantly liked about this establishment was their use of an open kitchen. I have said many times and will say it again. I really think this type of restaurant design helps diners connect that much better with their meal. Examples of this are the teppanyaki grills that seem to fascinate diners as well as pizza establishments as they toss their dough in front of their patrons. A little showmanship, transparency and the sounds, sights and aromas first hand from the kitchen just add that much more to a dining experience.

Menu

The concept is intriguing. Small plates really meant for sharing in an intimate space and a menu that changes almost weekly. Here were the offerings when my dining companion and I were there.

The was also a nicely curated wine list with every item available by the glass in addition to a selection of around ten artisanal beers.

Faith Based Events
The servers were extremely knowledgeable about the fare served that night, unusually so. I suspect they were long term former employees of CRU and were extremely polished. Interestingly, they said about 50% of the clientele were former CRU aficionados. With CRU’s provenance, this is no surprise. The servers also told us that Liberty prides itself on using very few commercial suppliers, having almost exclusively local farms and meat and poultry producers as product sources.
Chinese broccoli, pork and black garlic with peanut butter

The first menu item sampled was Chinese broccoli with pork and black garlic with peanut butter. Chinese broccoli or gai lan is in the same family as cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. It is a bit more bitter than its western cousin broccoli. This was stir-fried with pork and set atop plated peanut butter mixed with black garlic. Simplistically, black garlic is garlic that is roasted at lower temperatures for two to twelve weeks. This results in garlic with black cloves having a sweet/syrupy flavor. The dish seemed well thought out; the sweet garlic/peanut butter mixture an interesting substitute for traditional Asian peanut sauce.

Although good, this dish really did not stand out from similar stir fry dishes with peanut sauce I have had at many Asian restaurants.
We then moved on to the curry, a vegan dish.
Acorn squash and toasted pumpkin seed curry

This curry was made with acorn squash, carrot, parsnip, ginger, toasted pumpkin seed, tarragon oil and coconut milk. The green dollop you see on top of this dish is a mint and parsley gremolata, Gremolatas are herb condiments similar to the South American chimichurri. I thought this dish was good until my bites started to include the gremolata. The mint used was a very dissonant flavor combination with the rest of this dish. Although my dining companion liked it, this was my least favorite of the menu items sampled.

Pork belly, cauliflower, shrimp and kosho

The pork belly, cauliflower, shrimp and kosho was next. Kosho, or yuzu kosho, is a Japanese condiment that adds notes of salt, citrus and chili at the same time. The pork belly in this dish was seared and finished in the oven so that it was smooth and chewy rather than crispy as most preparations are. I suppose this was done to complement the textures of the roasted cauliflower and shrimp in this dish, but also to buttress the flavors of these latter two ingredients.

Yuzu kosho was added to the mix and the dish topped with chimichurri oil, the latter condiment adding parsley, garlic and oregano notes. Again this dish was good but the flavor and texture profile here was for me more deconstructed than anything. This seemed to work against what the chef may have been trying to do.
Confit of duck, sweet carrots, duck gravy and dijon.

I love duck. Seeing this on the menu immediately piqued my interest and it was the next small plate that followed.

For those that do not know, confit (con-fee) was a method of food preservation before the advent of refrigeration. Here, animals proteins are salted and cooked slowly at low temperatures to render the fat, or separate it from its protein counterpart. The rendered fat is then used to store and preserve the meat and or poultry which can keep for weeks or even months. In cooking a confit is cooked longer over low temperatures in either fat or in the case of fruit, sugars.

The gravy in this dish is made both the fat rendered while making the duck confit and the brazing liquid used to prepare some short ribs dishes at Liberty. Seasoned with rosemary and thyme, this was a welcome respite from, in my mind, those old and tired citrus sauces served frequently with duck.
In addition to the duck, the carrots are also prepared as a confit, cooked low and slow with a hint of garlic and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. A splash of Dijon mustard is added to the plate,  perhaps a tribute to the confit cooking method which originated in France. I thought this dish was very good and was my favorite of the evening.
We ended our exploratory repast with the short rib with mole sauce.
Short rib with mole sauce, almond and shallot

Short ribs are on my shortlist of favorite meats. The boneless short ribs served were perfectly cooked, some of the best I’ve had both in flavor and texture. The ribs are braised for six to eight hours and the brazing liquid also used as a base for the mole sauce. Mole (mow-lay) sauce originated in Mexico. Simplistically, mole is a complex mixture of chili peppers, fruit, nuts and a blend of many spices. Some mole sauces are blended with chocolate, as was the sauce served here.

The dish is garnished with ground almonds, shallot and served with roasted baby potatoes which were perfectly cooked. This dish was good, but could have been much better. There really wasn’t enough mole to go around on our plate for both of us to adequately coat the meat or potatoes. This was unfortunate as many bites of the items on this plate were bereft of the wonderful mole sauce served here making a potentially great dish good. I hope future platings of this dish will include a bit more mole.

The cost of our meal having just Fort Myers tap with tax and tip was $80.00. The cost of obtaining ingredients from local producers and the five (albeit small) plates served to us partially justified this.

Again, I really like what to me is the premise of Liberty, small plates to share in an intimate dining space that in part, allows diners to really engage with the open kitchen here and its staff.
Dining area

The service is very good and the servers exceptionally competent as to the specifics of the menu. The menu items seemed to be at least somewhat well thought out, and on the whole the food was nothing less than good.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the duck confit, the food for us at Liberty just did not have that wow factor that would keep us coming back. I love to write about restaurants with unbridled enthusiasm. This just did not happen here.
Without taking liberties with this review, it’s a wrap for another post on Forks.
Liberty
12995 S. Cleveland Ave. Ste. 112
Fort Myers, FL 33907
(239)689-5528
Open Mondays, 5-9PM, Wednesday and Thursday, 5-9:30PM, Friday and Saturday, 5-10:30PM, closed Sunday and Tuesday; All major credit cards accepted