Antonello Ristorante: an Italian Enclave of Deliciousness!

Deirdre Michalski |
Food And Dining

Antonello Ristorante Owner Antonio Cagnolo, along with Executive Chefs Salvatore Ferrara and Gino Buonanoce, has crafted a wonderful selection of new dishes to welcome a summer menu of lusciousness. They are also re-emphasizing their “table-side” and “flambé” offerings.

Table-side service is indeed a mainstay at Antonello’s. Sadly, one-by-one, many of the other restaurants providing such extra-special fare have faded into the western sunset. This style of service is very common in Italy, and is welcomed by those of us who enjoy an authentic dining experience.

For me, as long as the presentation is friendly and informal, I welcome it with open arms. If it is stuffy and formal, it’s just not as much fun. And during my recent dinner there, Salvatore S. D’Abbusco (Maitre d’hotel) certainly delivered, offering us the perfect balance. He was informative about the ingredients, friendly in his conversation, and passionate about his cuisine. As he prepared the dishes before our very eyes, he exhibited the magic touch of pace.

The Dining Experience

If you have ever found yourself "dreaming" about a recent dinner, you know it was an exceptional meal. I'm still dreaming about the Risotto at Antonello Ristorante!

Salvatore D'Abbusco our Maitre d'Hotel, and waiter Domico (from Spoletto, where I visited this past September) were our fabulous hosts for the evening...and both did a superb job of making us feel welcome, also steering us in the direction of some exceptional “shared” dishes.

We started the evening with a delicious Antipasti which was prepared table-side. It included Gamberi—large Santa Barbara Shrimp—sautéed with shallots, a hint of garlic, and dashed with Pernod for a dramatic flambéed finish. This was placed atop whipped mashed potatoes and drizzled with the remaining sauce. Perfection!

The next course was found on the Primi section of the menu. This was a delicious risotto, which changes daily. On this day, we were lucky enough to enjoy the Risotto with Shaved Truffles. This dish was lovingly prepared table-side in the center of a ten year old wheel of Parmesan. The Risotto was incredibly rich in flavor, with a subtle hint of shaved black truffles. This was the iconic dish I was dreaming about that same night!

As a side note: many loyal truffle fans wait with excitement for the shipment of white truffles that sell for well over $3,000 per pound, if you can imagine such a thing. They are available during a short window of time from October to December.

Our next course was a refreshing Spinach Salad, which was again prepared table-side. It began with fresh spinach leaves dressed in malt vinegar, pancetta, diced onions, Dijon mustard, and extra virgin olive oil, all tossed and plated as we observed in awe.

The special of the evening was our next course, and that was a traditional Osso Bucco served with al dente green beans—crunchy and rich with flavor. It was heavenly

Our finale was a wonderfully fresh Fruit Suzette Chambord with Nutella and this was flambéed table-side. What better way to end an evening with fruit of the day, crepe in a creamy nutty sauce and it was the perfect end to a fantastic dining experience. Voilà!

We then retired to the lounge to listen to a lovely selection of live music while sipping on after dinner drinks. What a lovely spot to escape our busy week.

Culinary Note: For those who love flambéed items, here are just a few of the entrée and dessert items they prepare.

For Main Courses: Black mussels with San Marzano tomatoes, flambéed with Grappa; Large shrimp with garlic, celery, and European butter, flambéed with Sambuca; Spinach Salad with bacon flambéed in a brandy dressing; penne pasta with Caribbean shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes, flambéed in vodka; and Fusilli Pasta with smoked salmon, capers, and Panna.

For the Dessert Menu, this includes: Fresh berries jubilee flambéed with Chambord; and Bananas Foster flambéed in dark rum and served with gourmet vanilla ice cream.

The Lounge: The Enoteca Wine Bar Castellani with Live Music

Tucked in the corner of the restaurant is an intimate bar with an adjacent cozy library setting. The lounge's name honors Piergiorgio Castellani, a friend of Antonio's, with a family history of 120 years in winemaking. The dark walls are accented with lush wood, soft lighting, and comfortable seating. The stage is set for Italian singer Paco Falcone, who serenades with a broad range of songs. He plays six nights a week, Monday through Saturday from 6pm until close.

A new bar menu has a selection of twelve items, with three stand-outs: $6 Pizzetta (Focaccia Pizza with tomatoes, black olives, and Mozzarella cheese), $9 Lasagna (layers of pasta, meat ragù, tomatoes, and béchamel), and $6 Calamari Fritti (fried squid with spicy tomato sauce and lemon).

Happy Hour is available from 4:30-7pm Monday through Saturday with bottled beers for $4, house wines for $5, and well drinks for $6.

Each Thursday evening is "Wine Flight Night" with Ciro Cirillo guiding guests through flights of four hand-selected Italian wines with light snacks from 4:30-9pm. Additionally, the restaurant hosts special Winemaker Dinners and Cooking Classes each month. Call to confirm the wine selection, visit their Facebook page, or check the website for weekly postings.


Private Dining Rooms

The restaurant offers eight different private dining rooms to accommodate five to 95 guests for dinner, or up to 150 for cocktails. Each room is unique, with hand-painted walls, stonework, and Old-World furnishings. This public space is expansive, though tucked away in an elegant, romantic setting perfect for private functions.


Ristorante Antonello

South Coast Plaza Village
3800 South Plaza Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92704

Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30-2:00pm
Dinner: Monday-Friday 5:30-9:30pm
Saturday 5:00-10:00pm
Closed Sunday

Deirdre Michalski is a cuisine and travel writer and blogs for DiningOut Orange County magazine. When not tasting new menus, interviewing chefs, or traveling, you can find her writing about it all at