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Diner: True to Principles

New owner of Barresi's sustains high-quality dining with an attention to detail

By Lora Arduser · December 21st, 2005 · Diner

Something about a white tablecloth makes a girl feel like a lady. Even if the lady in question does happen to emboss the linen with red imprints from her glass of Sangiovese ($9). At Barresi's Italian Restaurant the server will ignore this faux pas out of good manners.

The restaurant is legendary to a native Deer Parker such as myself. A fixture in the neighborhood since 1963, Barresi's has been unwaveringly serious about high-quality dining since Salvatore and Odessa Barresi first opened the doors to their six-table restaurant. If someone is willing to use the possessive form of their name, you know they mean business.

While there have been some changes over the years -- the dining area has grown, as have the menu and prices -- the personalized service and zealous attention to detail remain steadfast. Of course, the biggest change for Barresi's occurred earlier this year when Sal and Odessa sold the restaurant to Sarah Wagner, who bused tables there during high school, returned to the restaurant about a year ago after attending culinary school and bumping around other kitchens honing her craft. Ladies and gentleman, keep those napkins in your laps and remain calm. While Wagner wants to introduce Barresi's to a new generation of diners, she intends to remain true to the principles that have made the restaurant a dining gem.

When Mr. Husband and I visited to give the new owner the once over, we were greeted by a friendly, unpretentious young staff and seated in a candle-lit dining room of five or six tables. The only other occupant was an older couple in the corner opposite to us. We felt a little too cozy with our roommates at first, but soon settled in to the happy murmurs of our future dinner conversations and focused on our server as he recited the specials.

As a self-avowed carboholic, one of my favorite parts of any dinner is plunging my hand into the mysteries of the breadbasket. Barresi's does not disappoint. The basket was filled with warm, soft rolls called Zeppole, a traditional Italian bread reminiscent of a beignet dusted with salt rather than sugar. Buried beneath the pile of these little puffy delights were dense, chewy rolls shaped like Hershey's kisses, or as Mr. Husband suggested, breasts.

For appetizers we had the Antipasto ($12.95) and the feature of the evening, Lobster Ravioli served with lump blue crab meat in a cream sauce ($13.95). The presentation of both dishes reflected the romantic mood of the room. The ravioli, garnished with vine-ripened tomatoes, scallions and a sprig of rosemary, was served with two intertwined forks; the antipasto came with heart-shaped crackers. Words can't describe how luscious the lobster and cream dish was -- which is good, since it isn't polite to talk with your mouth full. The antipasto included a menagerie of savory bites of artichokes, peppers stuffed with cheese and prosciutto, chunks of Parmesan and sage Durham cheese, sundried tomatoes, pepperoni, mortadella, pepperocinis and olives.

When our server came back to check on us during the initial stages of our food orgy, I realized I had at least five forks in front of me and no clue which was for appetizers and which was for salad. Once again he handled my lack of breeding with grace, quieting the urge to place things right and simply averting his eyes.

I had been dreaming of the Osso Bucco ($34.95) for weeks. The meat, served atop a delicate risotto with a light tomato sauce, surrounded the veal shank bone it was falling from. The seductive aroma of garlic and little marrow fork peeking from the center of the bone had a positively swooning effect on me.

Mr. Husband's 8-ounce filet mignon ($29.95) was almost creamier than the lobster. It came with a generous portion of smashed, roasted potatoes, asparagus and a side of pasta. The server offered penne with marinara or Alfredo sauce, but I had a hankering for gnocchi, so we asked for it with pesto sauce. And while there wasn't a bum dish in the crowd, I have to say that this was my favorite. I don't know why I love those little pasty pellets so, but I do. Served with Barresi's pesto sauce they were, as my Italian ex-mother-in-law would say, "to die for."

We came full circle at the end of the meal, indulging in the creamier side of the dessert tray with Zabaglione ($8.50) and Cannoli ($6.50). The crispy cannoli shell was stuffed with a lemony cream filling and topped with miniature dark chocolate chips. The zabaglione, another traditional Italian dish made with egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine, was served in a wine glass over fresh strawberries with a dark-chocolate covered strawberry on the side. I seriously considered hoisting the glass with both hands and pouring the frothy custard down my throat. But I am, after all, a lady. ©

Barresi's Italian Restaurant
Go: 4111 Webster Ave., Deer Park

Call: 513-793-2540

Hours: 5-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Prices: Expensive

Payment: All major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Pasta, chicken, fish

Accessibility: Building and parking lot are fully accessible.

Grade: A+



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