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WHY WE LOVE IT: In just a few short years, chef Joe Pittman has proved to be among the best of the Gulfshore. He cut his chops under Charles Mereday, first running the kitchen of Mereday’s fine-dining flagship, then opening his casual brasserie. He has moved on and is now the executive chef of the new Azure. The sky’s the limit for the creativity of his cuisine, which runs to the French traditional- with-a-twist. With a focus on high-quality ingredients, with the addition of Chef’s deft touch, classic dishes take on new life.

IDEAL MEAL: No matter what your thoughts are on eating snail, do not pass up the escargots. The garlic-parsley clumps swimming in butter, known in yesteryear, have been reimagined as a creamy, lemony concoction that complements, rather than hides, the tender mollusks. Coq au vin is also a signature dish, layered with punch after punch of flavor from the extra-long simmering time in red wine sauce. A seared venison with butternut squash puree and Brussels sprouts is the picture of how the right technique can turn something simple into something special.

VIBE: Barely larger than the kitchen in some French country homes, the entire restaurant can seat just about 30 guests at a time. Many people elect to eat at the bar so they can peer into the open kitchen and watch Pittman at work; others will end up in the mix of cushy armchairs and ballroom chairs. But no matter where you sit, the atmosphere of joie de vivre that sweeps across the glass mosaic tiles and bounces off the glittery sconces makes Azure a wonderful place to share a meal with fellow diners.

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