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Appetite: Barbatella

Cucina Italiana: Paccheri with saffron, cream, shrimp and artichoke and lamb chop with rosemary and garlic sauce.Flavors Unlimited

To illustrate how strongly I support the marriage of chocolate and hazelnut—O, blissful Perugina Baci, O tantalizing Ferrero Rocher—consider this evidence. Last fall, I discovered the Belgian spread Cocoa Haze moments before Whole Foods stopped selling it. I launched a full investigation (the results of which are frankly too dull to share) and then bought two cases of the stuff right before their expiration date at the end of 2011. While everyone else toasted in 2012 with champagne and revelry, I savored one last, weepy spoonful. 

Chef Fabrizio Aielli of Sea Salt fame shares my love of chocolate and hazelnut. His newest Third Street South venture, Barbatella: Spirited Italian Trattoria, features this innovation as its signature dessert: a large pizza covered in Nutella, caramelized bananas and whipped cream ($14).

“When I was a child in Italy, I used to eat Nutella with bread, and it was so delicious,” Chef Aielli said. “That was the inspiration for this dessert.”

Barbatella also has a world-class gelato bar, but it would be a mistake to skip dinner before sampling its pleasures.

Chef Aielli brought in a special team of chefs and managers to make Barbatella a fitting counterpart to Sea Salt, our favorite restaurant in Collier County. 

“The concept of Barbatella is close to my heart,” he said. 

One glimpse of the gorgeous, whimsical Barbatella—think ornate green ceilings, a beautiful outdoor fountain, birdcage chandeliers, exposed brick and a rustic, fun vibe—and you know that he’s done it again. 

Just like Sea Salt, Barbatella offers antipasti, cheeses and cured meats, along with warm appetizers, soups and salads. I couldn’t resist ordering some prosciutto Parma (aged 24 months) served with mostarda pears ($9), and the Sottocenere truffle cow’s milk cheese with honey, jelly and flatbread ($9). The servings were generous, the flavors transporting. I also tried the warm polenta with fontina and porcini ($10), a mild, savory delight. Tom thought his pasta and fagiolo (bean and pasta) soup ($8) could have taken more risks, but he was well pleased with the buffalo mozzarella with basil and tomato antipasti ($12).

Fun is clearly on the menu at Barbatella. We saw several families, including a lovely couple from Pittsburgh with their very well-behaved five-year-old son, Calvin. 

“It’s our fifth time coming to Barbatella,” Calvin’s mom, Susan, confided. “It’s worth the drive from Marco Island.”

A more adult brand of fun comes in the form of wine tastings. Barbatella allows you to order your wine in increments of one ounce, three ounces, six ounces or a bottle. Tom selected a glass of the Vertigo cabernet sauvignon-merlot ($3 for one ounce/$58 per bottle) while I sampled four different wines. My favorite? The pricey but scrumptious Guado Al Tasso cabernet sauvignon-merlot ($8 for one ounce/$165 per bottle).

We sampled three entrées: the light yet satisfying cavatelli with mussels, cannellini beans and argulua ($18); the winning paccheri pasta with saffron, cream and artichoke ($18); and the regina margherita pizza with tomato, mozzarella and basil ($12). Barbatella’s pizzas are made in a fabulous, tiled wood-fired pizza oven so large it had to be lowered through the roof by crane.

Sweet tooth: Barbatella’s signature Nutella and banana pizza and one of its myriad sundae options.It’s shocking that we had the room or the inclination after ricocheting from one taste sensation to another, but you’ve already heard all about the Nutella pizza that crowned our meal. We compounded this sin with a dessert called the Paula Dust Road, featuring vanilla gelato, banana, chocolate-caramel sauce and malted milk ($9) and the mango gelato ($6).

“This is the best mango gelato I’ve ever eaten,” Tom said, with a faraway, almost religious expression on his face.

To sum up, whether you’re interested in sin or uplift—a couples’ night out or some good, clean family fun—Barbatella should be your next stop. 

Barbatella 1290 Third St. S., Naples; (239) 263-1955, barbatellanaples.com. Open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pizza and cold cuts from 3-5 p.m. daily. Dinner Monday through Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-10:30 p.m., and Sunday dinner from 5-9 p.m. Reservations highly recommended. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible.

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