Barone Ristorante opened only six months ago, but it’s already become known as one of the finer Italian restaurants in Newport Beach.
Last fall, Chef Franco Barone – longtime executive chef at Antonello – decided it was time to open his own restaurant. He took over the space formerly occupied by Pleasant Pheasant and opened his doors earlier this year.
Some might consider the move a bit risky given the current economy, but Chef Barone has garnered a loyal following from his days at Antonello (where he was lauded as Chef of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association).
Barone specializes in earthy, old-style Italian specialties created from recipes handed down in his family. Most of the pasta is handmade in Barone’s kitchen, and the menu is as authentic as it comes.
In fact, when Stasha and I perused the many lunch offerings during a recent visit, we had a difficult time deciding what to order. However, I knew in an instant what we’d order just by watching Stasha’s expressions as our waiter, Allesandro, recited the day’s specials.
“They all sound wonderful,” said Stasha. “But I think we’ll do the seafood salad, and the striped bass. Those sound fantastic.”
“You should also try the Spaghetti al Nero di Seppie,” suggested Allesandro.
“The spaghetti with cuttlefish ink sauce, shrimp, and baby lobster? Done. Salad, pasta and sea bass.”
When the salad arrived, Chef Barone’s wife, Donatella, introduced herself and suggested an addition to our order.
“It might be too much, but we became famous overnight for the Facci ri Veccia. People come from all over just for this.”
“Focaccia baked paper thin and filled with imported Crescenza cheese, topped with Parma prosciutto and drizzled with white truffle oil,” read Stasha from the menu. She turned to me. “Can we have one?”
“I think you should, even if you don’t eat it all,” said Donatella.
“Sold,” I exclaimed.
Donatella went to place the order as Stasha and I dug into our salads.
“I like the grilled seafood,” said Stasha. “What do you think?”
“Excellent. The shrimp and calamari are wonderful, and the octopus is a nice touch.”
The Facci ri Veccia arrived at the table and Stasha took a bite. She paused, then said, “Chris, try this focaccia. It has the most unique, subtle flavor and creamy texture, but it’s quite perplexing to describe. It’s like nothing I have ever tasted.”
I took a bite and my eyes grew wide.
“This is ‘Wow’ inducing,” I said in amazement. “No wonder people come from all over.”
The pasta arrived, and we moved dishes aside to make room on the table. The spaghetti looked as though it had been soaked in black dye, which was the effect of the cuttlefish ink.
“I have to know what is in this cuttlefish sauce,” said Stasha.
“The sauce has the meat and ink from the cuttlefish, then extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper,” explained Allesandro. “It is a delicate flavor yet very powerful, like a dive in the ocean.”
“Yes it is—I love that description!” agreed Stasha.
I was about to stuff a large forkful of pasta into my mouth when I noticed the appalled look on Stasha’s face, which halted me mid-bite.
Stasha picked up a spoon, “Chris, see this? It’s a pasta spoon. It is your friend. It’s for twirling the pasta.” she demonstrated. “Take a few pasta noodles, then twirl them on the spoon, so you don’t end up with a huge portion or dangling strands, and there you have it.”
I did as she instructed and sculpted an almost perfect forkful of pasta.
“See how easy that was?” said Stasha, pleased with the result of her instruction. “There is a strong debate over whether or not using a pasta spoon is proper etiquette, but until Emily Post and the Italian families I know tell me differently, I’m sticking with it.”
We soon started to slow down when we realized we still had one more course to come – the striped bass.
“That’s a lot of food,” I said. “What were we thinking?”
Fortunately, the striped bass turned out to be light, with a dollop of mashed potatoes and green beans on the side.
“This is so delicate,” said Stasha. “They’re right, it doesn’t need anything but the olive oil and sea salt.”
Chef Barone came to our table and asked if we had room for dessert.
“When I was at Antonello, we were one of the first restaurants to make tiramisu,” he explained. “It became really popular, so when I did my menu here, I knew I wanted to do tiramisu, but something different. I listened to my guests who shied away from tiramisu because of the espresso. We substituted limoncello for espresso and it’s become a hit. It’s very refreshing, like an aperitif.”
Stasha and I took a bite of the tiramisu.
“There is white chocolate on top, with caramel and a touch of lemon,” said Chef Barone. “I get the best citrus oil from Sicily, and the limoncello from Capri.”
“Wonderful,” we both agreed.
Perhaps the best way to describe the experience we had at Barone would be to quote Alessandro: “delicate yet powerful.” So, if you’re looking for a culinary “dive in the ocean,” there’s no better spot than Barone Ristorante in Newport Beach.
Barone is open for lunch Monday through Friday, and for dinner Monday through Saturday. For more information, call (949) 955-2755, or visit www.ilbaroneristorante.com.