There’s something undeniable about authentic Italian cuisine. Maybe it’s the way that flecks of extra virgin olive oil glisten inside homemade tomato sauce. Or perhaps it’s the featherlight mascarpone that lifts ladyfingers to new heights on a plate of espresso-infused tiramisu. Whatever that je ne sais quoi may be, it’s a magic that many can imitate but few can achieve.
Barbaro is one of the few.
Located in Millbrook, Barbaro opened its doors in November 2018. Although new to Dutchess County, the restaurant has quickly established itself as a local gem that’s known just as much for its handcrafted pastas as it is for its grilled octopus and wood-fired pizzas.
The ease of operation could have something to do with the master team behind it, of course. Helmed by Luciano Valdivia, the director of operations at Cucina in Woodstock and Market Street in Rhinebeck, the eatery oozes Italian flavor and Hudson Valley charm. Valdivia partners with Chef Gianni Scappin, the co-owner of the two aforementioned restaurants, on his newest endeavor, which draws inspiration from their Italian heritage and past successes.
“It’s a much smaller restaurant [than Cucina or Market Street],” admits Valdivia. Smaller it may be, but lacking on flavor it most certainly is not. For the menu, Valdivia and Scappin work with third partner and chef Nick Brower, who studied under Scappin at the Culinary Institute of America, to craft dishes that entice daring foodies and comfort food lovers alike.
Plates like wood-oven pita with homemade hummus and burrata ravioli with sage and toasted pistachios shine thanks to artful preparation and only the freshest ingredients available. Even the hamburger gets an upgrade with the help of avocado, crispy onions, and a layer of manchego to tempt the taste buds.
“We’re forced to make sure we’re always using fresh, quality ingredients,” Valdivia notes in regard to the impact the smaller kitchen has on service. He’s also quick to point out the eatery’s ample grill, which is essential for preparing the grilled chicken and the octopus appetizer. Another much-loved tool is the wood-fired oven, which comes in handy when making the Caprina pizza, topped with a fig-rosemary spread and Coach farm goat cheese, or the Bosco, a Hudson Valley-esque pie with mushrooms and an indulgent four-cheese blend.
For dessert, the much-coveted tiramisu rivals homemade cannoli and torta della nonna, the unassuming lemon custard tart that is so much better than any menu description can ever make it sound.
As far as ambiance goes, Barbaro is a dream for intimate dinners, celebrations, and anniversaries. Named after a famous racehorse in reference to Millbrook’s prominent equestrian culture, the eatery welcomes visitors with polished, warm details like a marble slab bar and antique golden frames that Valdivia inherited from his father-in-law.
“It’s like a little jewel box,” he jokes. In an ode to the restaurant’s Hudson Valley inspiration, he, Brower, and Scappin included subtle touches polo mallets and caps mounted along the walls. It’s nothing too overt, but just enough to share the heritage of the region with all who dine there.
Of course, there’s also the Italian translation of the name to consider. In the Romance language, “barbaro” means barbarous or outlandish, both of which resonate with the owners.
“We’re these guys coming into a quiet town,” Valdivia observes. “In spite of [the quiet], we’ve been incredibly busy.”
If the restaurant’s early success is any indication, this spring can only bring more exciting developments. Once the weather grows warmer, the Barbaro team plans to open the eatery’s blue stone patio, which can seat an additional 30 people to supplement the 55 spaces inside. Overall though, they’re just excited to be part of Millbrook’s quietly expanding restaurant scene.
“[Millbrook has] such potential as a quaint town,” Valdivia says, likening its potential progress to that of Rhinebeck. “The retail and food options are starting to come to a new level.”