The New Yorker


Elena Ferrante’s books brought the Italian island new renown. Now, with Barano, a chef brings its flavors to New York.

Ischia: Capri’s forgotten sibling, the Cinderella of the islands off the coast of Naples, long lay quiet in the Tyrrhenian Sea, home to therapeutic thermal springs and sunbathing Italians. But now, thanks to Elena Ferrante, the author and patron saint of many a contemporary bibliophile, Ischia conjures mythic promises of rejuvenation. “I felt better and better, I couldn’t believe that life could be like this,” Ferrante’s main character exclaims, at the beginning of her summer in the Ischian town of Barano. As of April, Brooklyn has a Barano of its own, from the former Rubirosa chef Albert Di Meglio, who conceived of the new restaurant as an homage to his grandmother’s birthplace. It’s a rewarding experience, as long as you’re aware that Barano the restaurant is roughly as reminiscent of a Mediterranean beach town as is Peter Luger, up the street.

There are Art Deco flourishes, antiqued mirrors, and a bar lined with enough glassware to stock the Titanic. It’s lit like a cozy little place, but large enough to be perpetually half-empty; the punk-pop playlist accentuates the alienation. The service, thankfully, is attentive and kind, if a bit overwrought. One German waitress, describing her favorite dishes, punctuates each recommendation with a loud “muah” gesture, her fingers pulled in a flourish from her lips. More transporting is the wine list, which reads like an enviable itinerary: Sardinia, Umbria, Trentino-Alto Adige. Select a bracing, mineral white from the Sicilian slopes, and settle in.

Ordering wisely here means ordering counterintuitively. Despite the restaurant’s noble heritage, it’s best to skip the pizzas—unlike Rubirosa’s chewy, charred, vodka-sauce-slathered thin crusts, which are so good you blush, Barano’s offerings are unexceptional—and order some pasta. Instead of the bucatini with rabbit, an Ischian specialty, opt for the lamb tacconi, thin sheets of homemade ravioli flecked with mint leaves. Or, even better, have the ricotta tortellini, jewelled with peas that burst like only those that are freshly shelled can. The whole fish is worth it, if you can stomach a grumpy fish face staring at you, but the real stunners are the vegetable sides. Asparagus spears, over orange-thyme marmalade, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, the ears crispy and curled around salt flakes, merit a return trip. End a meal with the panna cotta, cool and deeply vanilla, tucked under pistachio-hazelnut brittle and ribbons of basil, with slices of grapefruit just sanguine enough for you to pretend they’re blood oranges from Mt. Etna. It may be the final push you need to set off for the revitalizing shores of Barano, the original. (Dishes $5-$29.)