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Barresi's adds a dash of new to Italian classics

Review Information
Date March 8th, 2013
Written By Polly Campbell
Published Cincinnati Enquirer

I have been enjoying myself immensely recently as I try a series of new restaurants that are creating a modern dining scene - places like Kaze, Metropole and M. Like a lot of the eating-out public, I am excited by restaurants that offer something new and different.

But many of you, I'm pretty sure, feel the opposite: that the best thing a restaurant can do is continue to offer the same delicious thing you had last time you were there, and the time before that.

That's the dilemma of Barresi's. Owner Sarah Wagner bought the restaurant in 2005, inheriting a very loyal customer base and a well-established menu. But she has wanted to bring things more up-to-date. So the menu has been edited and streamlined, healthier dishes and entree salads included, and a cozy wine bar , cocktails and a menu of Italian "tapas" added.

Trust me, it's nothing radical. The menu still is what I'd call upscale (quite upscale by the prices) Italian comfort food. Not spaghetti and meatballs so much as salmon in lobster cream sauce or sauteed artichoke hearts.

To me some dishes are delicious but seem dated; to the Saturday night crowd, they probably seemed like friends. There may still be Italian dishes to discover here: a carpaccio you've never had, zabaglione and, if you've never been here, the zeppole. Be careful with those: the little puffy breads come in a basket before your food. They remind me of beignets, with Parmesan instead of powdered sugar. It takes great self-control not to eat them all while waiting for the first course. They even brought a basket when two of us ate at the wine bar and had a couple of small plates such as saganaki ($10) - a garlicky, olive-oily melted cheese dish - and pork tenderloin ($10) sliced on top of risotto with pesto, one of the dishes marked with a heart-healthy logo.

In the dining room, I went simple for my starter: a cup of delicious minestrone ($3.50), with ditalini and beans, vegetables and cheese. The carpaccio ($13) was also lovely, with capers and a lemony olive oil drizzle. A Caesar salad ($5) wasn't quite a true original, but better than the ubiquitous restaurant version.

We ordered both the lobster ravioli ($29) and the salmon cardinale ($30) and then realized how similar they are. Both feature a smooth, rich lobster cream sauce. This is what I mean by delicious but dated; a sauce that feels luxurious, but is rather bland compared with the kind of things they're serving Downtown. The ravioli seemed a bit thick to me, but there were some serious chunks of lobster meat on both dishes, taking it out of the ordinary.

Fillet of beef with gorgonzola ($36) was another rich one; well-cooked filet, a rich creamy blue cheese sauce, spinach - a pretty garnish. I think I liked the chicken scarpariello ($20) more, with a tomato sauce full of caper, sausage, olives and peppers - a much more lively dish, but without the high-class ingredients.

The tiramisu ($6.50) is delicious. And I loved being able to order Zabaglione ($8.50), a classic Italian dessert of marsala-flavored custard. It was more than really necessary - we shared.

Wagner is at the door to make the owners' greeting, which is really important to this kind of restaurant, to which people return frequently. Our server was more formal than friendly, but I didn't find anything to complain about in the execution and service.