As you consider where to take your sweetheart for a special Valentine’s dinner, we would like to highlight the best of what our local chefs have to offer. We at Estero Lifestyle Magazine have enjoyed some amazing culinary delights during the last year. Here is our Top 10 list of appetizers, entrees, and desserts from the restaurants we visited in 2012.

BIG HICKORY SEAFOOD GRILLE

26107 Hickory Blvd., Bonita Springs
Not to Miss:  New England Clam Chowder and Calypso Lobster Salad

Topped with bacon and chives, this creamy soup is hearty and comforting with its smooth, rich flavor that rivals any chowder served in the Northeastern states. Try it with the Lobster Salad, featuring amply sized chunks of meat and a tomato crown with wafer “claws” to give the illusion of a lobster’s shape.

BISTRO 41

13499 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers
Not to Miss: Pork Pot Roast

Bistro 41 manages to make this comfort food sophisticated. Braised in port wine and well-seasoned, the Good Nature pork roast is served atop roasted garlic mashed potatoes with a stack of caramelized onions swirled on top. The dish is finished with savory gravy and beurre monté and served with broccolini. It’s a local favorite.

BLUE WATER BISTRO

23151 Village Shops Way, Estero
Not to Miss: Crab Cake and The Ultimate

Starters can be a meal here. The giant crab patty is made from three types of crab, along with chunks of lobster, and served atop a creamy Palm Island remoulade. With a ring of green and red olive oils at the plate’s edge and more crab meat piled on top, this crab cake is a beauty. Pair it with The Ultimate, a seafood feast of chilled king crab, snow crab, shrimp cocktail, oyster, clams, and mussels for two.

CIRELLA’S ITALIAN BISTRO & SUSHI BAR

25265 Chamber of Commerce Drive, Bonita Springs
Not to Miss: Sushi and Sashimi Boat

The restaurant’s most dramatic dish, this impressive, wooden boat spans the entire length of a small dining table and is filled with 40 pieces of sashimi and 24 pieces of sushi, along with a California roll, JB Roll, rainbow roll, tuna roll and tuna tataki or seafood salad.

FIGS GRILLE

25987 S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs
Not to Miss: Tagine

Tagine is a traditional North African dish served in an earthenware pot with a towering, cone-shaped top designed to infuse moisture back into the dish as it cooks. Executive Chef Sam Tadros’ own spice blend includes fourteen different herbs. The Lamb Tagine is melt-in-your- mouth tender.

CONNORS STEAK & SEAFOOD

10076 Gulf Center Drive, Fort Myers
Not to Miss: Boursin Filet and Strawberry Shortcake

The nine-ounce filet is a tantalizingly plump filet of beef topped with Boursin cheese and a stack of “tobacco onions” – red onions dipped in seasoned buttermilk and deep-fried. This is one tall dish of melt-in-your mouth perfection. Leave room for the house specialty strawberry shortcake. This giant slice of sweet cake is served warm and generously topped with Connors’ homemade vanilla bean ice cream and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Simply heavenly!

LA FONTANELLA RISTORANTE

24600 Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs
Not to Miss: Cannoli

Sweet and creamy, this fabulous dessert is filled with homemade cream and chocolate chips and garnished with pistachio nuts. Other fabulous desserts include the Crème Brûlée and the Rice Pudding with white raisins and macadamia nuts.

SEASONS 52

8930 Tamiami Trail N., Naples
Not to Miss: Mini Indulgences

These mini-desserts are all under 475 calories (as is everything on the menu at Seasons 52). Served in shot-sized glasses for $2.50 apiece, these small dishes of sweetness are the perfect way to cap off a meal. Indulgences change seasonally. Try the Belgian Chocolate Rocky Road, decadently loaded with four kinds of chocolate.

MANHATTAN STEAKHOUSE

24940 S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs
Not to Miss: Porterhouse for Two

The porterhouse features filet mignon and New York strip served sizzling from the T-bone with natural juices for dipping. Charred on the outside with a soft, pink center, this steak could be cut with a butter knife. It’s perfect paired with the Special German Potatoes, sauteed golden brown with onions and baked for a splendid crunch.

TARPON BAY

5001 Coconut Road, Estero
Not to Miss: Ceviche and Raw Bar

Paired with flavorful chiles and fresh herbs, each of Tarpon Bay’s eight ceviche dishes is bursting with flavor. These raw seafood delights are “cooked” while marinating in citrus juice. Try the Asian Salmon with Thai chili sauce and almonds. The raw bar also includes a selection of the freshest oysters and clams on the half shell.

Have a favorite dish from a local restaurant? We’d love to try it out and feature more culinary delights in an upcoming edition of Estero Lifestyle Magazine.