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Roll Out The Barolo 

Major overhaul at Stonecrest restaurant

Is success only counted with a gold medal? Does it matter that in a field of 100 Olympic contestants, only three will take the stand and only one will hear his national anthem?

Restaurants, too, spend a great deal of time and money trying to get all the ingredients to come into play. Sometimes this combination earns a gold or silver. Sometimes the restaurant develops a niche following. And sometimes the ingredients just won't jell and, in some cases, the owner starts over.

Such is the case for Barolo Tuscan Grill. For a few years, this outbuilding in the far parking lot of Stonecrest Shopping Center was one of the Joey D'Attore's locations, a concept by Dennis Thompson (whose Red Mountain Management company also owns neighboring Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill). But Joey D's was stuck in a 50s time warp with a Frank Sinatra soundtrack and the kind of red and white southern Italian food which gave Italian food a bad name. Last February, Thompson sold a partial interest to Alberto Mangione. Gradually, Mangione made changes to the menu, staff and interior, and in June launched the new name.

Mangione is a familiar name to those who dined at his uncle Roberto's restaurant in Dilworth. Mangione worked in Mangione's Italian Ristorante for 11 years, manning all stations. (Mangione's closed last January after 27 years in business.) "When you are family, you do everything," Mangione noted.

The reborn Barolo boasts a 220-seat interior with spacious booths and distinct dining areas warmed with tones of olive green and light mustard. The ambience is easy and comfortable. Frank has been banned from the airwaves. Now the room is flooded with contemporary Italian music, which, according to Mangione, is "a lot like the American 1980s music: laid back but exciting." Valet parking is offered four nights a week. Typically, suburban shopping center parking valets are cause for laughter, but not in this case. The parking for the Regal Cinema spills out into other parking areas, and without the valet, you may have to hoof it from the grocery store across the expansive parking lot.

Chef Troy Grenga, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who previously worked at P.F. Chang's with Mangione, heads up the kitchen. Mangione said the menu is seasonal and will soon change. The summer menu is lengthy with 20-plus pasta dishes, a few pizzas, and another dozen chicken and veal dishes such as veal saltimbocca and chicken breasts with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes. A handful of steak and fish entrees completes the menu.

This is not strictly a Tuscan grill. Sicilian dishes are sprinkled throughout (Mangione once lived there) and the menu is a combination of regional Italian, including southern Italian. Entree prices range from $9.95 for spaghetti to $20.95 for an eight-ounce filet.

The service, bumbling at first, began with three hostesses crowding the maitre d' stand in an empty entry way and not having a table set for a reservation. Service steadily improved with a few blips. We endured the salesman close-the-deal technique of "What did you like about your entree?" asked while we poured our own wine.

The antipasto misto, Barolo's appetizer sampler, is almost exclusively fried foods; the only exception on this is the bruschetta. Some foods, however, should not be fried and risotto is one of them. Arancini, normally found as a Sicilian snack food, are bland golf ball-sized, deep-fried rice balls barely flavored with beef and peas. Accompanying these weighty orbs are fried calamari, fried mozzarella and fried shrimp. None of these bites exhibited pristine or focused flavors. Keep in mind, if you're looking for the items you fell in love with on your last wine/cooking trip to Tuscany -- such as cavolo nero, a black cabbage, or farro -- you won't find them here.

The salads redeemed the starters, particularly the house salad with goat cheese. Next up were the secondi dishes. Some of the pasta sauces tasted of being long simmered, a functional part of Italian cuisine, and were good. The lobster ravioli, however, disappointingly did not taste of lobster. Better were the grilled items like the salmon, which was deftly cooked and partnered with a grilled polenta wedge and sauteed spinach. Dinner, which is served in larger-than-life portions, almost begs for a lemon semifreddo or something light to end the evening. Our panna cotta was smooth and sweet, but blissfully not heavy.

To his credit, Mangione has changed the restaurant considerably since coming on board, yet the menu, as dictated by the restaurant's name, can stand further refocusing by bringing more Tuscan elements into it.

Eaters' Digest

Act now if you want to get on the mailing list (over 1,000 chef wannabes already have) for the Chef's Choice program at Johnson & Wales University. This program of hands-on culinary courses will be filled on a first-call basis. Classes are scheduled for Saturdays in early November through January from 9am until 1pm and will be conducted in the state-of-the-art culinary labs on West Trade Street. Classes will include basic cooking, ethnic cuisines, holiday cookies and other baking classes. Registration is $85 per person per class and is limited to 20 participants per class. Gift certificates will also be available. To be added to the Chef's Choice mailing list, e-mail your complete mailing address and telephone number to bernice.parenti@jwu.edu or call 980-598-1085.

A reliable source confirmed that within two weeks an announcement will be made that a Lexington-style barbecue restaurant will open in Center City.

Now closed: Huong Viet Restaurant, 4808 Central Avenue. The new occupants of the space said the owners retired.

Tarboosh, 3145 N. Sharon Amity Road, has also closed.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@ creativeloafing.com

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