Il Barone Bottega: Third Wave Italian
Il Barone, in that section of Newport Beach near John Wayne Airport that's basically a laid-back Irvine, is great old-school Italian, the kind of place you take the in-laws to for a leisurely lunch. But in this hyper-competitive foodie economy, in which regional cuisine rules and young chefs continue to trot out innovations, old-school is no longer enough. So the owners have decided to open up a deli next to the restaurant, a place from which you can get pastas, juices and other Italian cupboard standards while grabbing a quick bite to eat.
It has only been in business for three weeks, but it's already taking its place among OC's tried-and-true Italian delis—such as Cortina's, Claro's and Sabatino's—as places to lose yourself in for hours. And Il Barone Bottega has the potential to become the best of them all despite its tiny size. It has a state-of-the-art room in which sausages and meats of various makes dry, destined for paninis. Display cases and wine boxes masquerading as shelves stock everything from preserved tuna belly to chocolates to Yoga, the official fruit nectar of Italian kiddies. Other cases remain empty, promising even more food products in the near-future. An alcohol permit is taped to the window, whispering of the wines to come. A gelato case hosts made-that-day trays of the stuff featuring caramel, hazelnut, chocolate, cinnamon, and the mysteriously named "wild fruit" that tastes as though raspberries and blackberries fought one another for 12 rounds, then made babies.
The food options right now are limited, alas—just already-prepared sandwiches ready for a panini press, the aforementioned gelato, and a pastry case the young Italian-Americans at the counter are more than happy to top with gelato to capitalize on the ice-cream-in-a-donut trend. All sandwich orders come with a serving of green beans and potatoes—delicious. But this is a place with ambition, a spot where the Il Barone clan can show Orange County it's not content to merely offer great food. Best of all, it's as unpretentious a spot of Newport real estate as you'll find—go now in its early days, before Newport's office drones make it the next must-eat lunch spot.
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