I'm taking a much-needed break from writing about politics this week to focus on food.
On June 12, I premiered my monthly column for foodies that discovers — and rediscovers — fun places to eat in the Newport Beach-Costa Mesa area.
After the column appeared, I received lots of feedback from readers wanting to suggest their favorite dining spots.
Interestingly enough, several asked if in this next column I would focus on quiet places to dine.
That struck a chord with me.
Recently I checked out Fig and Olive in Fashion Island and the new Winery in Newport Beach, where the old Villa Nova used to be.
Both restaurants were so noisy that it was hard to carry on a conversation with dinner guests sitting across the table. Based on that alone, I won't be back to either place.
But over the past few weeks, I have checked out two Italian restaurants where the food was good and the dining experience was conducive to visiting with good friends.
Il Barone Restorante, 4251 Martingale Way, Newport Beach, is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and dinner from 5 p.m. to closing Mondays to Saturdays. It isn't open on Sundays.
Tucked away in a shopping center off of Birch Street and Corinthian Way, it is over by Arnie's Deli on the backside of the center. Parking is ample.
The restaurant isn't very large, which adds to the friendly, intimate vibe.
The dinner menu salad selections include Il Barone, mixed baby Tuscan greens, mushrooms, tomatoes and fennel, with a balsamic herb vinaigrette; and the traditional Caesar salad, both for $11.
Enjoy Italian favorites such as veal Parmigiana, pounded breaded cutlet baked with Parmigiano and mozzarella cheese in a fresh tomato sauce, $27, or the chicken version, $24.
Pasta dishes include pappardelle a 'la Ragu D'Agnello, pappardelle in a delicate lamb ragu sauce, $20. Try the capellini funghi e salsiccia, angel hair pasta, homemade sausage, mushrooms and fresh tomato sauce, $21.
Reservations are suggested for lunch and dinner.
When I dined there with my husband and friends, the place was packed, yet quiet enough for us to enjoy conversation and a great meal.
Chef and owner Franco Barone was the longtime chef at Antonello Restorante & Enoteca Lounge before opening this restaurant in February 2010 with his wife, Donatella.
Oddly enough I found myself at Antonello in South Coast Village just a few days later.
Located at 3800 South Plaza Drive, Santa Ana, across from South Coast Plaza, Antonello has been open since 1979. I've known owner Antonio Cagnolo for years and have had many memorable dinners there.
But in recent years the restaurant has fallen off my radar, so I was delighted to rediscover it when friends suggested it last week.
The restaurant is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and Saturdays until 10 p.m. It is closed Sundays.
The interior is elegant with an Old World feel. The food is exquisite.
We started with the prosciutto and melon, which features imported prosciutto, melon balls and mozzarella, which were quite good, $16.
Other appetizer choices include peppered mussels or clams, Mediterranean mussels or Manila clams, white wine, parsley, cracked black pepper, $14.
There's also bruschetta, homemade ciabatta, fresh chopped Roma tomatoes, Parmigiano reggiano, sweet basil, $10.
On the salad menu we tried the mixed salad, $11, baby kale, bibb lettuce, shaved fennel, Champignon mushrooms, Parmigiano reggiano, imported red apple cider vinegar, Sicilian olive oil.
The caprese salad, $15, includes fiori di gioia mozzarella, cluster tomatoes, basil, arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and organic olive oil.
On the pasta menu is spaghetti chittarra carbonara, $19, homemade, square-cut spaghetti, pancetta, sweet onions, egg yolk and Parmigiano reggiano, which was yummy, but I took half of it home. In hindsight it would have been better to share this dish since it was rich.
Other choices include grilled salmon, $34, Scottish salmon, roasted baby heirloom tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and organic olive oil.
For veal lovers there's veal and prosciutto, $28, veal scaloppini, prosciutto San Danielle, sage and European butter, as well as osso buco, $42, braised veal shank, minced veggies, white wine and saffron rice.
And leave room for dessert. Choices include chocolate lava cake, $12, hot flourless chocolate cake, zabaglione and vanilla gelato.
We loved the Grandma's Mascarpone and pistachio cake, $12, sponge cake, mascarpone, mocha moose and pistachios.
I enjoyed both restaurants, and the Italian food in each is distinctive.
More Barbara's Bits & Bites next month …
BARBARA VENEZIA, whose column appears Fridays, lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at email@example.com.