Il Barone is a hidden gem that you probably won’t find while driving by; it’s in a small mall behind the Staples on MacArthur Boulevard in Newport Beach.
The eatery is the dream of chef-owners Franco and Donatella Barone, who decided to open their own place after Franco built his reputation at several exclusive SoCal restaurants and won Chef of the Year honors twice – once from the California Restaurant Writers Association and once from the OC Business Journal.
Although small, Il Barone offers fine-dining elegance. The congenial service by an experienced staff is welcome and refreshing. The moment I entered, the noise of the business world slipped away, and I found myself in a comfortable enclave decorated in sumptuous browns and greens.
Immediately after being seated, I was given breadsticks, herbed butter and a wine list. After choosing a moderately priced but delicious pinot grigio, my waiter, Allessandro, shared the specials. Every single item sounded fabulous. Everything from stuffed swordfish to braised short ribs to seafood linguine … I asked Allesandro what he’d choose, and he didn’t hesitate: the lamb stew.
First I started with a Caprese salad, made with thinly sliced fresh tomatoes, served with shaved Parmesan, olive oil and imported buffalo mozzarella. It was perfection. The tomatoes were large and sliced paper-thin, which allowed the taste of the high-quality cheeses to explode. The Italian mozzarella had a much softer texture than traditional domestic varieties and reminded me of burrata cheese.
The lamb stew was delicious. Slow-cooked, the recipe seemed quite simple: chunks of melt-in-your-mouth lamb, thinly sliced caramelized onions and potatoes in a red-wine reduction sauce. (I ate only a bit so I could take the rest home for dinner and was ready to cry when I realized I’d left my to-go package at the restaurant.)
Allesandro saw through my charade about not wanting dessert and brought me a Limoncello cake that was light yet so flavorful, it vanished before I realized it.
The lunch menu covers the traditional Italian fare – appetizers, pizza, soups, salads, pastas and entrees – with a gourmet’s personal touch.
Give the gift of great taste
For the holidays or any time, Il Barone gift certificates are available in a variety of designs. You can write your own message and choose stationery on the website for a personal touch. If you’ve been meaning to get to Il Barone, the holidays are an ideal occasion.
Your just desserts
Bring your sweet tooth! Desserts are all made daily by Chef Barone. The OC Register nominated Il Barone’s cannoli as the best in the world. The Limoncello tiramisu is a signature favorite, and there are daily specials.