Photo credit to Bistro 41.

Looking for a hip place for al fresco dining this fall? Try Bistro 41. Located in the Bell Tower Shoppes, Bistro 41 exudes chic. The contemporary feel of the restaurant coupled with an expansive outdoor dining area makes this a superb choice for casual fine dining. Judging from the architectural features and decor of bright, bold paintings, we were anticipating something special on the plate-ups. Chef Heath Higginbotham did not disappoint as he presented beautiful dishes, making it easy to feast with the eyes first.

To be sure, the bold flavors were not a disappointment, either. Propelled by the success of Bistro 41, owners Shawn Le Marie and Robert Rommel recently purchased Bayfront Bistro on Fort Myers Beach. Both restaurants have captured local culinary awards. Many things have changed for the Bell Tower Shoppes and its eclectic collection of retailers since Bistro 41 opened in 1997, but the quality of this restaurant is not one of them.

Bistro 41 serves natural foods, using locally- grown organic produce and meats without antibiotics or hormones. Those with special dietary needs will find dining at Bistro 41 easy, as the menu identifies dishes which are dairy free, gluten free, peanut free and vegetarian. As we were seated in the center of the bistro, we perused the expansive wine offerings and noted the “41 Special,” a superb deal for two including salads, entrees, dessert, and wine for $41. The bistro also presents wine dinners throughout the season, where international and domestic wines are paired with special menu items for a fi ve-course meal.

For starters, we ordered the Famous 41 Flat, a meat-and-cheese platter which includes Mediterranean olives, fresh strawberries, hard salami, crostini, red onion marmalade and apricot preserves, along with a choice of three kinds of cheese. We selected the tangy Maytag Blue Cheese, a rich and creamy St. Andre and the Lamb Chopper, a mild sheep-milk cheese with a smooth, buttery texture.

We also tried the Bistro Crab Cake, which is panned seared and served with a zippy avocado remoulade, along with caramelized plantains. This sweet-savory combination is a definite palate pleaser. Next, we moved to the salads, which we enjoyed with an extra helping of crostini bread. The house Bistro Salad is packed with flavor, featuring mixed baby field greens with portobello mushrooms, gorgonzola cheese, red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, toasted walnuts and pine nuts, topped with balsamic vinaigrette and pesto drizzle. “Full” portions of the salad are large enough for a meal, and “half” portions are still ample for splitting if you plan to indulge in the main course.

Selecting a dish wasn’t easy with options including pork, pasta, chicken, steak, salmon, scallops and other seafood. We knew someone must order the bistro’s “Award Winning” Pork Pot Roast, a staple on the menu for years. If ever the chef tries to remove it, faithful customers are aghast, said our server, Dan. While pot roast may sound like Mom’s home- cooking, 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.

We also tried the Prime Bavette Steak, a French-style cut of marinated beef packed with meaty flavor. The Divers Scallops were also exceptional. The pan-seared sea scallops were skewered on lemon grass and served over herb tomato spinach orzo pasta with lemon infused extra virgin olive oil and feta cheese. Also on the menu are seasonal Chef’s Features, which change according to the availability of fresh ingredients and the inclination of the chef. Spanish Stuffed Peppers were on a recent menu, while previous menus have featured Duck Breast Wellington and Twin Lobster Tails.

We topped off the meal by splitting two delectable desserts, the ever-popular crème brûlée and a luscious Bourbon Chocolate Bread Pudding. Bistro 41 is located at 13499 S. Cleveland Avenue in the Bell Tower Shoppes. Reservations may be made by calling (239)466-4141 or online at www.bistro41.com.