Photo credit to C Level.
From the neon blue of the bar to the soft blue glow of the table lamps, C Level Bistro & Wine Bar takes a classic “Under the Sea” theme to new levels of intensity. The ambiance is soothing, sleek and sophisticated: a blue chandelier, blue wine glasses and tiny, blue bubbles floating up the wall decor. Neon blue reflects off the brushed metal menus, silver bead curtains and shiny place mats. Even the water is served in a cooked, blue carafe. The theme is carried throughout the restaurant, even into the restrooms, where guests may find themselves mesmerized by the neon flat screens featuring jellyfish floating through the deep blue. This upscale urban vibe delivers an unexpected thrill to small-town life on the Gulf Coast.
C Level Owner Anthony Denson cultivated his knack for dramatic design through 30 years in the music and video retail business in England. “I could dress a window and make it look as though you’re in Hollywood,” he says in his distinctive British accent. “I have no idea where it comes from.” Denson says the neon blue lighting “evolved” over time, as did the restaurant’s concept. C Level began as a wine bar when it opened in 2012 in the former C Grape Coffee & Wine Bar location, offering an extremely limited snack menu.
Then one day, a diminutive Frenchman of nearly 80 years of age entered the establishment and offered his services. After retiring from running his own restaurant in Rhode Island, Chef Roger Putier was looking for something to do. When Denson heard his credentials — including cooking for former French President Charles de Gaulle — he eagerly hired Putier to revamp C Level’s menu. “Roger was the guy that put us on the map,” says Denson. Current C Level chefs, Jeremy Hatfield and John Baker, learned to make classic, French-inspired cuisine from Putier, including charcuterie platters, escargot Bourguignon and French onion soup so cheesy it’s served with scissors.
Eighteen months ago, C Level doubled its space, adding a separate dining room. The back wall is lined with perfect rows of fine wines arranged to look like a bookcase. Just beyond is a saltwater aquarium filled with the vibrancy of the coral reef. Back on the bar side, Denson often mingles with his regular customers. On the night we dined, his companion was a professional golfer, television analyst, and golf instructor Bobby Clampett. The CBS Sports broadcaster recently has delved into winemaking with a boutique vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif. His private label, Clampett Cellars, is among the artisan wines available at C Level.
With an atmosphere permeated by oceanic blues, C Level Bistro is a place where the food is good, the wine list is comprehensive, and the ambiance is distinctive. “It’s not just the food people come to a restaurant for,” says Denson. “I think they come for an experience: it’s food, ambiance, and service.”
01. ESCARGOT BOURGUIGNON
This iconic French appetizer is done in classic Bourguignon style. Escargots are baked tender and served with warm garlic bread — essential for sopping up all that wonderful garlicky butter sauce!
02. CRAB CAKES
This is one meaty crab cake! No fillers here. Just plenty of colossal crab meat, seasoned and seared for full flavor. It’s served with fresh arugula and caramelized pineapple, along with mango habanero salsa to deliver a satisfyingly sweet heat.
03. CAPRESE SALAD
This classic Caprese features vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil, and greens with burrata cheese. This Italian cheese brings textural diversity with its outer shell of mozzarella and its soft middle of stracciatella and cream.
04. MAPLE LEAF FARMS CRISPY 1/2 DUCK
Roasted duck, sourced from Maple Leaf Farms, offers a lean poultry protein with rich, red-meat flavor. Raspberry sauce enhances the natural, subtle sweetness of the duck. This hearty portion is served on a bed of wild rice with a lovely crisp-tender vegetable medley.
05. SCALLOPS FLORENTINE
Colossal sea scallops are seared and served in a creamy wine sauce with sautéed garlic, tomatoes and capers, served on a bed of creamed spinach with parmesan. Microgreens and a summer veggie medley complete this succulent seafood dish.
06. CREPE SUZETTE
This light dessert is a lovely way to finish a hearty meal in true French fashion. The citrusy-sweet Crepe Suzette sauce blends caramelized sugars, butter and orange liquor. It’s garnished with orange zest and served with creamy ice cream and fresh whipped cream.