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The Gossiping Gourmet: The good buzz about Il Barone is all true

August 24, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Franco Barone, left, and his wife Donatella run il Barone Ristorante in Newport Beach.
Franco Barone, left, and his wife Donatella run il Barone… (KEVIN CHANG, HB…)

After 20 years as Antonello's award-winning chef, Franco Barone opened his own restaurant in 2009 with his wife, Donatella. Lots of good buzz finally brought us to Il Barone Ristorante, a pleasant bistro tucked away in the rear of a business and restaurant plaza in Newport Beach.

We liked the look, size and sound level in this warm contemporary space. The entry brings you into a small waiting area with a bar. We sat in the smaller of the two dining areas, a few steps up. Attractive black mesh curtains separate the rooms. Gray-silver walls and muted abstract paintings combined with warm low lighting and candles on white linen-draped tables create a relaxing ambience. Soft strains from classic Italian crooners fill the background with nostalgic sounds.

We are both big fans of octopus and arugula, so it was an obvious choice to select the polipo sedano e arugula. These thick, well-seasoned slices were grilled and served warm on a large bed of arugula, wilting the greens slightly. We couldn't find nor did we miss any sedano (celery), although we did find some small cubes of potatoes. The dressing was a simple lemon and olive oil mixture, and it all worked together to create a tasty mélange.

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Straciatella is like an Italian version of egg drop soup. Eggs, parsley and cheese are beaten together and stirred into the hot chicken broth, creating shred-like strands. Some modern versions like this one also add spinach. The broth was very light but lacked character. It wasn't our favorite rendition of this soup.

Munching on bread sticks and a delicious creamy garlic parsley dip, we poured over the long list of house-made pasta offerings, trying to decide which shape we were in the mood for. We usually choose whatever pasta is house-made but here the entire selection is "fatta in casa."

We finally decided on Terry's favorite, pappardelle, flat, long and wide noodles with rippled edges. It is done here as malfade al funghi misti trifolati (sautéed mushrooms). The simple preparation of earthy sautéed mushrooms with garlic, olive oil, basil and parsley provided just the right amount of flavor to let the chewy, satisfying pasta become the star.

Pizza lovers will find three thin-crusted selections including one with ricotta, Sicilian sausage and eggplant.

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