When it comes to combining a fine European dining experience with the elegant yet casual atmosphere of Sanibel's tropical ambiance, the sky's the limit.
So it would be only natural that when one of the most respected, world-renowned chefs is tabbed to lead the next generation of culinary excellence on the islands, the new restaurant would be called Il Cielo, which is "The Sky" in Italian.
Loretta Paganini, host of “Simply Gourmet” on the Discovery Channel and proprietor of the International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute, was invited by Shoreline Investments — financial backer of the eatery, scheduled to open this October at 1244 Periwinkle Way — to assist in the opening of what she describes as "the definitive Italian restaurant."
"Yes, it is located in the former Dolce Vita building," said Paganini, a frequent visitor to the islands. "And we are going to bring it back to where it was, but even better than before."
According to Paganini, who is currently working on creating an authentic Italian restaurant using fresh local products, the interior of the eatery will be completely refurbished.
"Our decorator is going to give it an authentic Tuscan look, which will fit in better with the island feel," she added. "I'm very excited to see how it turns out because it's such a great, beautiful building."
A longtime favorite of both locals and tourists, Dolce Vita closed in early 2009. Most recently, the building had been occupied by Ellington's Jazz Bar & Restaurant, but the business shut its doors in March of this year.
The celebrity chef and culinary teacher owns the prominent professional culinary school ICASI (International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute) as well as Sapore Restaurant, and the Loretta Paganini Cooking School in Chesterland, Ohio. Paganini is a regular guest on several television cooking programs and keeps herself "fresh" by traveling and teaching cooking clinics all over the world. Her passion for Italian cuisine is second only to her love for Sanibel, where she has been offering an annual series of sold-out classes for the past 15 years.
“I’m thrilled to be part of this exciting new restaurant," she said. "Sanibel will see an exciting new restaurant concept that reflects my traditional Italian culinary roots and high standards of hospitality, while keeping in mind the island’s culture, tastes and lifestyle.”
The Il Cielo experience will include live music in addition to serving lunch, dinner and cocktails.
"I think it's great that we're going to be opening at the beginning of the next season," said Paganini. "I enjoying coming down there every year, and I can't wait for something exciting like this to happen." JEFF LYSIAK