Friday, July 19, 2024

Michael’s on Naples breaks cardinal rule and goes full Italian-American

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Michael’s on Naples has always stuck to a definitively Italian-Italian stance, where regional representation of Italy’s cuisines are reflected through Chef Eric Samaniego’s skills in the kitchen and General Manager Massimo Arrone’s absurdly wide array of knowledge about Italian wines as sommelier.

At Michael’s, as has always been the case, one will not find plates of chicken or eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, veal marsala, or fried calamari; instead, you will find farm-to-table representations of handmade pastas, pizzas, and protein dishes.

That’s changed—at least on Tuesdays, when the Italian staple goes full-on Italian-American with their “Brooklyn Nights” offerings.

So what is this “Brooklyn Nights” at Michael’s on Naples all about?

“We’ve had customers ask us repeatedly for these kind of plates,” Arrone said. “And while we don’t do that type of food—we’re distinctly Italian, not Italian-American—there was also something really warming about the fact that they feel comfortable asking us for those dishes. So we decided to oblige.”

What dishes are those, exactly?

We’re talking polpette della Nonna—Grandma’s much-loved meatballs—sitting atop a spread of house made ricotta. Chicken and eggplant parmigiana. Antipasto and Cesar salads. Bolognese with pappardelle. Rigatoni alla vodka. Piccata. Marsala.

“The first few weeks have been wildly popular,” Samaniego said, admitting that this “isn’t the food I normally cook and want to very much remind people that Michael’s will always be Michael’s: Regional Italian cuisine that flows and goes with the seasons. But I’m happy to oblige the chicken parm crowd once a week,” he said, laughing.

Samaniego might not be keen on making calamari fritti or cannelloni, but his versions are easily some of the best in the region, where his chicken parmigiana—fried to perfection, slathered in a bright, simple red sauce and fresh mozzarella slices before being broiled—sits atop what could arguably be called the smoothest mashed potatoes in the city.

His meatballs—a mixture of beef and pork and generously doused in that red gravy—are perfect salt bombs for the spread of ricotta and basil that sit beneath.

And with their new pastry chef, Michael’s on Naples is also elevating their dessert game

Of course, Brooklyn Nights isn’t the only thing that has seen a significant menu change to the space: Pastry Chef Erin Garcia, the newest kitchen crew member at Michael’s on Naples, and her artistic creations have slowly garnered her a following—and rightfully so.

Her take on a torta della Nonna is a take to the Tuscany-birthed classic where layers of custard and pine nuts fill a buttery tart crust before being topped with lemon verbena gelato and painted with a blueberry drizzle and berries.

Not remotely over-sugared, it’s one of the finest representations of the Italian dessert in the region.

Garcia has a deconstructed ode to the Piedmont chocolate favorite Ferrero Rocher by way of a masterful chocolate tart: A wonderfully dark-meets-milk chocolate mousse sits atop a dark chocolate crust and is finished off which toasted hazelnuts.

The result is forgetting Nutella exists while watching one of the city’s best pastry chefs make herself a name.

And yes, they are participating in Long Beach Last Call—but what is that, exactly?

After the success of my restaurant week last year during August, Long Beach Food Scene Week, bar owners and tenders rightfully asked: “What about a week for us?”

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So I decided to oblige and present Long Beach Food Scene: Last Call, a ten-day long, 15-event celebration of Long Beach’s amazing bar culture, it’s even more amazing workers, and the industry that often goes without recognition as one of our city’s largest economic and social drivers. 

And that includes a special wine dinner at Michael’s on Naples featuring the four wines above and hosted by Arrone, arguably the city’s most knowledgable sommelier when it comes to Italian wines. (And yes, that is a French champagne, which will be used as a toast to open the palate.)

For tickets, click here.

Michael’s on Naples is located at 5620 E. 2nd Street.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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