Food by Richard Burns
Bucks County Time Off, April 2006
Restaurant Review - Villa Barolo Ristorante
Villa Barolo is an unusual restaurant. The setting is modern and vary attractive. Its extensive menu features almost any of the Italian dishes you can think of. The printed specials menu, which changes daily. Is graced with innovative dishes, wild game, and unusual whole fish filleted tableside. All this front an owner-chef who was born in Hong Kong
One might assume the menu is too ambitious and that the quality of the food could suffer. Far from it—every dish we tried at Villa Barolo was first-rate. Owner-chef Lo has mastered the art of Italian cooking. He previously owned the Marco Polo Restaurant in Elkins Park. Villa Barolo has been open for about 6 months and, if the weekday evening crowd is any indication, it is off to a good start. In addition to Chef Lo, there are five other chefs working in the kitchen. They have been with him for 15 years, a mark of consistency.
Villa Barolo is located in an airy, attractive building with a very large parking lot that can he entered from either Bristol Road or Route 611. The design inside is modem with light wood used throughout. There are a limited number of excellent pieces of modern art on the walls. The entry is large with seating for those waiting for a table (reservations are taken only for parties of six or more). Chef Lo believes that people who are kept waiting should be rewarded, and complimentary hors d’oeuvres are served to those waiting. There is also an open display on ice of the fresh fish and shellfish that will be used that evening.
An ample bar area is off he entry room with tables where guests can eat. There is piano music in the bar Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. The spacious main dining room is modem in appearance with booths and tables, all with white tablecloths and comfortable seating screens are used to break up the room. One does not have the sense of being in a large hall. The restaurant also features several separate rooms for special events.
The menu is impressive for both its size and its presentation in a large binder. The night we visited there were 23 items — all with prices — offered on the specials menu alone! This menu generally includes ostrich meat ($25.95) end usually another wild game meat, such as wild boar chops ($28.95), the evening we visited the restaurant. The fish are brought in fresh from as far away as Hawaii (opakapaka, $29.95) and Australia (barramundi, $28.95). Another example is Suzuki-Japanese sea bass ($28.95). The regular menu includes a full range of Italian delicacies. There arc four risotto dishes with seafood in white or red garlic-wine sauces ranging from $14.50 to $19.95. Pasta dishes abound, including a dozen without meat or fish. Multiple dishes are offered with chicken, beef or lamb and veal. Although the menu is a hit overwhelming, many, but clearly not all, the Italian dishes are familiar and can trace their origins to various parts of Italy.
For appetizers, we chose from both the special and regular menu. My wife, Rose, loved the chilled asparagus ($8.95) topped with crabmeat, drizzled with lemon and olive oil, and served with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese. Our guest was more traditional and opted for the white water mussels ($6.95) in white garlic wine sauce. They were as tender and sweet as any mussels I have tasted. Finally. I elected the seafood dumplings ($7.95) from the specials menu. Given that the chef was Chinese, I assumed these would be Chinese-type dumplings. Wrong!
They were two abundant half-circles of puff pastry that had been stuffed with crabmeat, shrimp and smoked salmon and baked. The dumplings were served over a bed of delicious pink cognac sauce.
The house salad included with all entrées (except the pasta dishes) was a mix of greens served with a wonderful blue cheese dressing, served alongside excellent, warm French bread.
For entrees, our guest selected the sea scallops ($18.95), which were sautéed with mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, garlic and sherry wine: another outstanding dish. Rose had a smooth end delicious filet of sea bass ($25.95) sautéed with scampi and sea scallops in a while wine sauce. I tried a dish that used a cooking method I had seen in cookbooks, but never attempted — a striped bass cooked in salt ($29.95). Chef Lo brought the fish, which looked like a loaf of salt, tableside where he uncased it and then filleted the delicate bass within. It was tender, sweet and — interestingly — needed a bit of salt.
We asked to share a pasta dish, “the house specialty,” gnocchi al pomodoro ($13.50). It was the best I have ever tasted, including any I had in Italy. It was tender and moist and the fresh tomato sauce was the perfect complement. The large serving was more than we could eat.
Desserts, while not made in house, were very good. Rose had the carrot cake and I, of course, had to try the flourless chocolate torte ($6 each). Both were exceptional. Gelato, also, was a great temptation.
The service was prompt and friendly. However, the pasta dish we shared was served with the main course rather than as a second course as it would have been in most Italian restaurants. Despite the attractive tableware and upscale atmosphere, the after dinner coffee was served in plain mugs with the spoon in the coffee. Water glasses were not kept filled. I suspect these problems will be worked out.
There is a large and impressive wine list, A broad choice of wine by the glass ($6 to $10) is available as is a large selection of draft and bottled beer.
Villa Barolo is a “destination restaurant” and well worth the trip.