Villa Barone

This new Italian establishment in Robbinsville offers an abundance of good food and good times.

By:Faith Bahadurian

Villa Barone

Robbinsville-Allentown Road

Routes 130 and 526


(609) 529-0000

Food: Good to very good

Service: Good

Prices: Moderate to expensive

Cuisine: Italian

Vegetarian Options: Some antipasti, salads, pastas, individual gourmet pizzas

Ambience: Tuscan Moderne

Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m.

Essentials: Accepts major credit cards; wheelchair accessible; BYO; no smoking; reservations for parties of four or more.


    I am constantly discovering new Italian restaurants in the area, and each has something special to offer. More than one person had told me to check out Villa Barone in Robbinsville, in the new mall at a busy intersection where a wine shop once stood.
    And when I finally did, I quickly discovered what is special about the place, which is four years old. First is the "Toscano Table" just inside the door, where platters of tempting antipasti sit on a specially chilled surface. Second is their nightly specials, which, although they are priced well above standard menu items, are outstanding.
    The restaurant is owned by Giovanni Barone, who comes from a restaurant family. This is currently his only restaurant, although two more are in the works, hopefully to open in the new year. The décor is contemporary Italian, lots of stone, metal and glass, and a sound level that would benefit from some softer surfaces. It is especially noisy on the banquettes next to the open kitchen area, so avoid that area if, like me, you are distracted by such noise, and be thankful that the music is kept low.
    The place was very busy on both of my visits, with well-trained staff rushing about tending to their happy charges. There was always someone handy if you had a question or special request, and water was refilled regularly.
    The large menu has all of the typical Italian-American offerings and then some, with many appetizers, salads, pastas, and tried-and-true meat, seafood, chicken and veal dishes. Wood-burning brick-oven pizzas also tempt.
    During my first visit last spring, a friend and I ordered two special seafood appetizers and enjoyed both the clams and mussels in lemon sauce and very spicy Cajun shrimp and scallops on arugula. But on my recent visit I had my sights set on that antipasti table. The price varies nightly between $14 and $21 for two, depending on what has been prepared.
    Our $20 platter included ten or so items: tuna and carrot salad, squid and crabmeat salad, white beans with mussels, various marinated grilled vegetables, olives and cherry tomatoes, with salty shards of Pecorino Romano perched on top. It was all so good, but there was so much that the leftovers constituted nearly a full meal at home the next night. And, more temptation, the house-made triangular rolls were warm from the oven, so we also had to restrain ourselves from overindulging in those.
    Salad came with our entrées, but due to our surfeit, we shared just one, which consisted of very fresh greens somewhat overdressed by very good house balsamic dressing.
    Both our entrées, ordered from the recited specials, were very good. My friend’s grilled seafood platter ($29), offered mahi mahi, scallops and lobster tail on a bed of spinach, with a dollop of mashed potatoes and a few asparagus. The fish was the star of this platter, full of excellent grilled flavor, but the scallops were also good, as was the little lobster tail, which often disappoints.
    My own grilled veal loin ($34), had been sliced and fanned out, and served with a sprinkle of gorgonzola cheese, wild and porcini mushrooms, and the same mashed potatoes and asparagus. The veal was bursting with natural juices; no gratuitous sauces were necessary here, for either the veal or the seafood. Each entrée also came with a slice of cold tomato, which was the only off-
note. It was sprinkled with parsley, but would have benefited from a few minutes under a broiler to heat and soften it up.
    On my first visit we had tried one entrée off the regular menu and one special. Cappellini with spinach and crabmeat earned its menu price of $18 with copious amounts of crabmeat tangled in the angel hair pasta. Our second entrée that night, a special of roast pork with porcini flavored breadcrumbs and spinach ($22), was outstanding. But beware, specials are recited without prices and they can soar far above those on the regular menu (mostly under $20), so ask if you care.
    I don’t expect much from desserts in Italian-American restaurants, but we chose two winners at Villa Barone. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered cannoli, since it is usually ruined by those little chocolate chips, or inferior filling, or soggy shells. But I’d watched the waiters at the dessert station throughout the evening filling generous rolled shells with a squeeze of the pastry bag, and couldn’t resist. The shell was crackling crisp. The filling was rich with ricotta and marscapone cheeses. The rosettes of whipped cream and chocolate drizzle were acceptable garnish, and at $3, this was a delicious bargain. My friend’s tiramisu ($5) was also deemed very good, although I would have liked more espresso flavor. She also ordered a cup of decaf coffee, which was merely okay, however since it did not appear on our bill, who’s complaining?
    Villa Barone calls itself "Vera Cucina Italiana," true Italian cuisine. I don’t know if I agree with that, but can happily vouch for the abundance of good food and good times to be found at its tables.