13771 Newport Ave. #9
Tustin, CA 92662
Most of the time when I write down a restaurant for us to try, it comes from one of the blogs that I have read, or maybe a magazine article, or sometimes I get readers tips. This restaurant is a little different. I jotted this one down after reading through Dustin Penner's tweets. Who's Dustin Penner? Some of you hockey fans might know that he has played with the Ducks two times now but was traded away in the middle of last year. He lives in OC during the offseason and mentioned one of his favorite restaurants was Barolo Cafe in Tustin. His glowing accolades made me take notice, and it finally worked out where we could try this restaurant.
For those of you not familiar with Barolo Cafe, like me, it's located in the same shopping plaza as Wahoo's and Gen Korean BBQ House off of Newport Avenue. Their website tells me that they have been open in this spot since 1992, and somewhere along the way, they opened a second location, Barolo By The Sea, on Balboa Island. Owner and Head Chef at Barolo's is a man named Giuseppe, who is from Italy, but honed his craft in many countries across the globe, as well as stints on cruise ships.
We arrived here on a Friday night, and this little restaurant was packed. Make sure you have a reservation because we were almost out of luck when we showed up at 6pm. Barolo is a tiny neighborhood Italian joint, with tables that are too close to each other, an open kitchen which allows customers to glimpse a professional chef working hard, and it has an upscale Italian menu, with many favorites listed on it. I had a hard time making a choice, and so did the rest of my fellow dining partners, but we finally decided, and this is what we came up with.
We were presented with this Bread Basket to start things off. The bread here was fresh, and when dipped in the provided oil and vinegar, it made this even better. I tried to limit myself to eating only two pieces of this, but that was not to be on this night, as I went way over my quota.
Entrees at Barolo Cafe come with Dinner Salads. This is your typical house salad, which had just from the farm greens, grated carrots, and a flavorful vinaigrette. This was dressed a little on the light side for me, but Katie and my parents had no complaints about their salads.
I had wanted a Caesar Salad instead of the house salad that came with my entree, and they were gracious enough to just charge me the difference, which was only $2. I was happy I upgraded my salad, as this was a pretty good version of a Caesar. It had plenty of dressing, which was a creamier dressing than what is on most Caesars. Almost like a mustard-based dressing, but with just a hint of mustard flavor. There was plenty of croutons and Parmesan on this salad too.
Katie carefully perused the menu before ordering this Tortellini Boscaiola ($18.95). Joining the tortellini on the plate were peas, mushrooms, and a very nice cream sauce. This was a pretty good dish, even without a protein added. The cream sauce was light but flavorful, the pasta was definitely made in house, and the mushrooms added a nice earthiness to the plate. Katie described this as, "perfect Italian comfort food." One of the better pasta dishes Katie has had in a while.
My Dad wanted to have seafood on this night, and I had heard good things about the special they were offering on this night, the Sea Bass Piccata ($27.99), and it did not disappoint. The sea bass was cooked wonderfully, fork tender, and the sauce had just enough flavor to delicately balance out the fish. Not the most beautiful of plates because it was all one color, but it was probably the best plate of the night for our party of four.
When my mom sees arrabbiata on an Italian menu, she almost always gravitates towards it. The Penne Arrabiata ($17.95) would be her choice on this night as well. This spicy red sauce really hit the spot with her. The sauce had a punch of heat to it but did not overwhelm the taste buds. The fresh pasta clung to the arrabbiata sauce perfectly. If I would have ordered this I would have wanted to add a protein to this plate, but my mom liked it just fine as it came out of the kitchen.
I went a little out of my comfort zone when picking my meal at Barolo Cafe. I can't remember the last time I ordered a dish with eggplant in it, but here I was having the Veal Sorrento ($20.95). It had also been a while since I had veal as well. Here it came sliced thin, then layered with eggplant, mozzarella cheese, and tomato sauce. The veal was very tender, but kind of got a little lost here with the other flavors on top of it. The eggplant in this dish has got me thinking that I should order it more than I do. The side of pasta was just like the others at the table, freshly made, and with a very nice red sauce poured over it.
We wanted some dessert, but nothing really struck our fancy on their dessert menu, so we just went with this Chocolate Truffle ($6). This is not like the truffles you can get at See's Candies. This is chocolate gelato dusted with cocoa powder, surrounded by candied hazelnuts, with a zabaione cream center. After biting into this I learned that zabaione is a light custard made with a sweet wine. This was a good dessert, but not enough to split between four people.
Barolo Cafe is the kind of Italian restaurant that you wish was in your neighborhood. If we lived closer, I could see this becoming an every other week kind of place for us. The menu is not going to blow you away with its creativity, but you can bet that the items that are on it are going to be fresh, made correctly, and satisfy your appetite. The prices here are a little on the high side, but I'd argue that it's definitely worth the splurge every once in a while. Even though the restaurant was filled to the brim, we experienced very good service. It's obvious our waitress was used to the big crowds here. Even though Dustin Penner has moved on to the Washington Capitals, I definitely thank him for mentioning Barolo Cafe on Twitter, and I hope he has a great season, except when he plays against the Ducks in the Stanley Cup finals.
Out of five lumber mills, (in honor of our tipster Dustin Penner, who is from Winkler, Manitoba, which was named after Valentine Winkler, operator of a lumber business in the area), five being best to zero being worst, Barolo Cafe gets 3.5 lumber mills.
For more information about Barolo Cafe, go to their website here: https://www.barolocafe.net/