Noted Italian restaurant Il Barone, opened in 2009 by longtime Antonello Chef Franco Barone and his wife, Donatella Barone, has long been a favorite dining spot for OC’s movers and shakers.
The flagship Il Barone was tucked away inside a small strip mall near John Wayne Airport, and became a go-to power lunch spot and a dinner mecca for those looking for an authentic taste of Italy—specifically, Sicily.
In 2017, Franco and Donatella moved their much-lauded bistro—they were named Chef of the Year and Restaurateur of the Year from the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association—to a larger space on Bristol Street inside a shuttered Coco’s Restaurant.
They also opened Il Barone Sicilian Street Food at the Pacific City shopping center in Huntington Beach, run by their eldest son, Jon Barone.
If that was not enough to keep them busy, they became the new proprietors of Ti Amo in Laguna Beach.
Then the pandemic hit, and with it came challenges for local restaurants. Ti Amo closed, as did their Pacific City endeavor. However, Il Barone survived thanks to expanded patio dining and loyal patrons.
Last fall, Il Barone moved again. The restaurant has taken over the spot on MacArthur Boulevard near John Wayne Airport vacated by Bosscat Kitchen, which moved to new digs along Von Karman Avenue, at Irvine’s Lakeshore campus.
Il Barone has also changed its name, slightly, to Bar One by Il Barone. One visit to the new Il Barone tells you why: the large bar is now the centerpiece of the restaurant.
“The bar is unbelievable,” Donatella Barone said. “When people land at John Wayne Airport, the first thing they do is Google ‘bar.’ We get Uber and Lyft all day long here. But it took us 15 years to build our name. That’s what we are known for. So, we call it Bar One by Il Barone.”
A prime reason Bosscat moved was the landlord’s intention of demolishing the restaurant and other nearby buildings for a residential development, Barone said, so Il Barone took the spot knowing they might only have a few years until they needed to move again.
“We don’t know when we’ll have to move, we could be part of the new project, but that’s a long time from now,” she said.
“So, we are looking, but we are not in a hurry.”
The new Bar One by Il Barone has a familiar menu, but an ambiance decidedly different than their last two locations, which had more upscale yet relaxed atmospheres. Most of the new restaurant is spread out under a covered patio, which presented new challenges earlier this year.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think of rain,” Barone said. “We could not seat anyone when it was raining. Finally, hopefully, the rain is behind us. For now, this spot will work. We still have our good food, and people know us.”
One positive element of their other restaurants closing: Jon Barone has come to work side-by-side with his father in the Bar One kitchen.
“He has the passion and wants to show his dad he can do this,” Barone explained. “He’s a young, fresh mind. We’re used to old school, and what we do is different for these kids. Franco is learning all over again. What we are doing is still traditional but in a
more casual environment. We are adapting well.”
The OCBJ Review: BY CHRISTOPHER TRELA
I recently brought two friends to Bar One by Il Barone, so they could try the dishes and learn what makes the restaurant so special.
When Jon Barone brought out the first dish—a fabulous crudo of the day with shrimp and yellowtail—he noted that they now have a big kitchen with 10 burners and a pasta station with another 10 burners, plus a pizza oven outside.
“It’s fun, it’s my playground,” he said.
Barone also brought out Arancini, which he called typical Sicilian street food: tomato risotto cones filled with ground beef, mozzarella, and peas, with a parmesan panko crust.
And of course, I had to order my favorite pizza: Facci Ri Veccia with thin yeastless focaccia, Crescenza cheese, Parma prosciutto, and truffle oil.
People have been known to drive many miles to enjoy this Il Barone staple. Not surprisingly, we devoured the dish.
We also shared the Pistachio Pesto with fusilli, smoked salmon, shrimp, pesto, and toasted pistachios. The flavor combination was perfect, with the pesto clinging to the pasta with every bite.
Barone then brought out a special treat, something he made for a chef’s tasting menu: diver scallops atop a bed of squid ink risotto with fennel pollen. Nobody does squid ink pasta like the Barone family, and the dish showed off his creative side.
For dessert, we had two dishes to share: pistachio white chocolate with olive oil and basil panna cotta, and flourless chocolate cake with dehydrated peanut butter and fennel-spiced peanut brittle.
We were all dazzled with dinner and delighted to see that Il Barone is still going strong and that the cuisine is as creative as ever.
Bar One is serving outstanding Italian food, bar none.
Bar One by Il Barone: 4647 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 955-2755, ilbaroneristorante.com