With roots in the hearty Italian cuisine of Sicily, Cirella’s serves up Old World comfort food while adding sophisticated flavors from the East with its full sushi bar. Executive Chef Michael Cirella grew up in the kitchen. His father, Sal Cirella, opened his first restaurant in New York City almost five decades ago. During the season, regulars of Cirella’s in Bonita Springs will certainly meet Sal as he exuberantly greets guests.
Michael will more likely be found in the kitchen, having trained and worked 35 years as a chef. Michael opened the Bonita location in the Prado at Spring Creek six years ago, serving up classic Italian dishes. Before long, he brought in Sushi Chef Ron Mendoza, uniting the divergent cuisines of two cultures under one roof — something common in New York but more exotic on Florida’s Southern Gulf Coast.
“It took a little while for the people down here to accept it,” Michael admits. “Now, it’s very popular.” On a recent night, a large party ordered the restaurant’s most dramatic dish, the sushi and sashimi Boat for Four. This impressive, wooden structure spans the entire length of a small dining room 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.
We started our culinary journey with Cirella’s Signature Roll, featuring crunchy shrimp tempura, asparagus, avocado, chives and cream cheese, topped with baked shrimp and sea scallops in a creamy dressing and drizzled with eel sauce. The fresh flavor explosion was enough to make my non-sushi-loving dinner companions (or so they said…) help themselves to seconds.
Cirella’s offers a full menu of cooked rolls and raw rolls, along with seventeen Asian-inspired appetizers. For those who prefer their seafood breaded or drizzled with sauce, the Italian side of Cirella’s menu also offers some tantalizing appetizers, including mussels marinara and fried calamari. And, of course, there are always the meatballs! Other popular starters are Zuppa (soup) and antipasto, served either cold or hot.
The Zuppa di Pesce is served family-style and includes seven types of seafood over linguine and your pick of marinara, fradiablo (spicy) or Bianco (white) sauce. For starters, we tried two of Cirella’s gourmet salads, served with warm, seasoned garlic knots. The sweet and tangy Paese Salad features mescalin greens, candied walnuts, dried cranberries, sliced apples and gorgonzola cheese, drizzled with honey mustard. The equally flavorful Insalata di Spinaca blends baby spinach, warm dijon vinaigrette, pancetta, artichoke hearts, red onions and shaved parmesan.
For the main course, Cirella’s menu is packed with classic Italian dishes, as well as tantalizing modern approaches to Italian cuisine. Feeling overwhelmed with the choices, we turned to our server, Ella, who was delighted to share her favorite picks. Of the nine House Plates, she recommended the Pollo Scarpariello — combining oven-roasted chicken with sausage, onions, roasted potatoes, and peppers — or the Vitello di Parma — veal medallions sauteed in olive oil with tomato, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and basil over spinach.
I chose one of Michael Cirella’s signature dishes, the Costoletta di Vitello Parmigiana, an impressive veal parmesan served on an oversized plate with bone protruding from the 16-ounce chop. The veal is pounded thin, breaded and pan fried, then topped with tomato sauce and plenty of melted mozzarella. The size of this hearty dish makes it perfect for sharing. “It’s Italian comfort food,” Michael Cirella says.
“You can get veal parmesan anywhere, but you’re not going to get veal parmesan like this. It’s an eye-catcher.” My dining companion ordered the Shrimp Oreganata, which features eight jumbo shrimp breaded with a parmesan, garlic and oregano blend and infused with a creamy white wine sauce. Although we were feeling quite content in the relaxed atmosphere of Cirella’s, we couldn’t help but sample one of the restaurant’s homemade desserts. While the classic tiramisu is always tempting, we opted for the Tartufo ice cream treat.
With this cool, sweat dessert, chocolate and vanilla ice cream encase a cherry and almond center. The entire treat is enrobed with dark chocolate. Split into four, bite-sized pieces, this was the perfect ending to a delightful meal. It’s easy to see why Cirella’s has been voted “Best Italian Restaurant” and “Best Sushi” by readers of the Fort Myers News-Press for the last four years in the newspaper’s “Best of Southwest Florida” poll.