WHY WE LOVE IT: Sometimes you want to dine in sumptuous splendor, to be pampered from the moment you call for a reservation until you slide your credit card across the table. The elegant Il Cielo, a mainstay on Sanibel for years, embodies that spirit. But because it requires crossing a causeway, it’s easy to leave the Continental-leaning culinary delights to be discovered by tourists. Our recommendation: The next time you have a meeting nearby, make a detour, especially if you haven’t been since it was relaunched in 2013—the dining room, large bar and menu were all revamped.
IDEAL MEAL: The sky’s the limit where the impeccable service and serene surroundings are matched by a satisfying mix of classic dishes dressed up for the global tastes of the new millennium. What started life as an Italian restaurant now leans toward new American staples while maintaining its European influences.
Start with flash-fried calamari coated in sweet chili—or mussels simmered with fennel and burst tomatoes in white wine. It’s impossible to go wrong with the veal marsala atop a creamy parmesan polenta, seared scallops in a citrus beurre blanc and a pistachio-crusted domestic lamb alongside roasted fingerlings. Leave room for dessert because every- thing is crafted by Il Cielo’s pastry chef, from a seasonally changing cheesecake to a towering tiramisu.
VIBE: The dining room is dressed to impress, with high ceilings, rich mahogany details and large windows looking out on the palm trees dotting the yard. Noise is never an issue, guaranteeing that wining and dining VIPs will always be a pleasure. If a casual catch-up is what you’re after, the prominent, wood-paneled bar area has a bevy of seats where you can tuck into a martini or a glass of Cabernet.