After my experience at Knife + Fork this past Sunday, I was not sure that trying a new restaurant again so soon might be a good idea-- if nothing else, I was already set up for disappointment.
Fortunately, my expectations were met or exceeded.
The interior of the restaurant is dark and intimate- dark wood, white tablecloths, good glassware laid out on the tables. But it being summer, the real attraction of this place is out back in the expansive garden. For those who are fans of the one at Cacio e Pepe, Barbone's garden is about the same size, but feels much more refined, with cute lampposts lighting the area, a new wooden deck, and a fresh coat of paint on the outside walls. The place is immediately attractive.
The menu is priced to sell, even in a neighborhood overcrowded with Italian restaurants. Appetizers and salads hung around $6-7, pastas at $10-14, and entrees in the teens. The wine list offers only Italian selections, with several under $30 and many under $40.
My party of three tried three appetizers and three pastas (we stuck with pasta as I had heard they were all homemmade and excellent).
We began with the "asparagus fries," which is the sort of "comfort food" that people on these boards seem to get all fired up about. That is to say, they were lightly breaded and fried asparagus spears, reminiscent of the fried green beans at the Red Cat, delivered with a side of a tangy yogurt-ish sauce (I forget what it was). I think the Red Cat green beans are better, but these were very satisfying and certainly appeal to those who enjoy these whimsical takes on deep frying that are so popular right now.
We also had a watermelon salad with red onions, "caper berries" (essentially, a giant caper) and toasted ricotta. This dish was absolutely fantastic. The watermelon was crisp and lightly sweet, and paired perfectly with the tartness of the onions and the caper berries. This was a dish I had not seen done this way anywhere else, and it is the type of thing people die for in the summer.
Finally, we had a rucola salad with onions and thinly shaved grana cheese; it was what it was.
For pastas, we had the carbonara ($11.50), which is their signature dish, and comes with chunks of bacon and a light and not overwhelming cream sauce, along with a seafood tagliatelle chock-full of seafood in a tangy tomato sauce. Our final dish was the chicken liver ravioli, another dish that you might not see on a lot of menus. The ravioli were huge- 4 filled a large plate- and they did have a strong taste of chicken liver. I enjoyed them, but buyer beware - if you don't like liver, don't order it, because the taste is unmistakable. I thought the chicken liver ravioli was the best-executed pasta, in terms of innovation and the quality of the pasta itself, but they were all good. I would not say that the homemade pasta compared to, say, Babbo and Lupa, where Chef John Baron got his start, but I could see them getting there.
We finished with an affogato (ice cream with espresso), which was delicious, and were treated with three free glasses of moscato.
Service at Enoteca Barbone featured what I would consider the usual miscues at a new place: wine glasses not refilled promptly (our white lingered in a bucket in the corner while our glasses sat empty, until I motioned toward it and asked for more), dishes not presented to the people who ordered them, but these are small quibbles. The service was attentive and friendly, and certainly of enough of a quality to suit a restaurant in this price range and level of formality.
Enoteca Barbone has stiff competition in the neighborhood - from Max and Supper and the still-strong Il Bagatto, particularly - but I think it will stack up well against them, in terms of food, price, and quality. It is certainly a better-looking and more formal restaurant than any of the three, at comparable prices, and its food is more refined and less rustic than Max, certainly, and arguably the other two.
For pasta fans, and Italian fans in general, this place should definitely be on your radar screen.
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