This Hot New Restaurant Has Become a Crown Jewel By the Sea

The stars are the ceiling at Michael’s On Naples, with the sapphire evening sky overhead and a bright fire burning on the stone hearth. “This is what dining in Califor- nia should be,” said a visiting European gour- met and wine connoisseur, enjoying the balmy summer evening and excellent menu at Michael’s. The rooftop deck is an island paradise onto itself, an intimate yet sophisti- cated escape from the daily grind. Exquisite attention to detail is evident, from the exotic potted orchids, attractive rattan furniture and gorgeous wine glasses to the subtle classical guitarist playing softly. The main restaurant on the street level is also comfortable and welcoming, fitted with flattering lighting and an accommo- dating bar. Michael Dene’s culinary philosophy is simple and straightforward. He learned about what to eat from his beloved mother, now in her 98th year. “I serve fresh and wholesome dishes that my mother would like. She cooked only fresh fruit and veg- etables, meat and poultry, never canned or frozen. Eating fresh food is the key to longevity and health” said Michael. “From the farm to the fork, with no chemicals or factory farming; I try to be involved every step of the way.”

Dene and his chef David Coleman follow the farmers’ markets and cultivate relationships with the best local growers and producers. The ever-changing menu is focused on seasonal availability, using the freshest and finest that Southern California has to offer. Nightly specials reflect the chef’s creative imagination and versatility, with handmade pasta, bread right out of the oven and still or sparkling water filtered in house, demonstrating Michael’s care and concern for the customer. Michael Dene’s first career was in the lighting industry, and he continues to shed light on his second profession as a restaurateur. His original culinary aspirations sprang from his extensive international travel.

He journeyed to Italy many times and felt that the ambiance, cuisine and wine of Tuscany would suit his Naples Island neighborhood at home perfectly. As a businessman, he found and bought the building on 2nd Street first. “There were no restaurants of this caliber in my own neighborhood. I saw an opportunity to find a restaurateur for my building, but I met no one with the kind of vision I had. So I went ahead on my own.” Dene takes pride in the restaurant’s wine cellar, and with good reason. The wine list features a nice balance of Italian and California wines, with a generous choice of white, red and sparkling varieties. Even the house wine by the glass is exceptional, showcasing Newton wines from Napa. Newton uses a natural approach to its wines, titling Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon “unfiltered” to indicate processing and bottling with plenty of fruit essence left in the wine.

This makes for a crisp and delightful Chardonnay, tasting fresh off the vine, and full and robust Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, packed with flavor, yet eminently drinkable. Newton wines are only available in select restaurants. General Manager Massimo Aronne is instrumental in choosing the best wines for the price, keeping the wine cellar stocked with choices for every diner. The barkeep is also well gifted, and serves a mean martini. The espresso martini is a delicious combination of flavors, unusual and interesting. The dinner menu has something delightful for everyone. Appetizers and salads showcase the bounty of the area. Grilled octopus is served with frisée lettuce and warm potato salad, celery root and salsa verde, a splendid contrast of flavors and textures. Confit artichokes, fennel, arugula and caracara orange salad is California on a plate, dressed with citrus vinaigrette.

“Pizzett” is pizza taken to a new level, a crisp crust with simple, fresh ingredients on top. Napolitano Margarita pizzett is wonderful with heirloom tomatoes, basil chiffonade, finely chopped garlic and olive oil. Handmade pasta is the specialty of the house, and does not disappoint. Michael’s pasta is Dene’s favorite, with thick cut spaghetti, proscuitto di Parma, pepperoncini, plum tomatoes lightly sautéed with onion, garlic and basil. Black pasta purses stuffed with lobster, shrimp and eggplant are colored with calamari ink and served in lobster broth with pesto and roasted fennel. Lasagna is the most beautiful layered pasta on earth, colorful with fresh spinach, tomatoes and ricotta cheese. Mediterranean branzino is traditionally served as a whole fish, moist and savory with fresh vegetables and light broth. The New York steak is a fabulous cut of prime beef served with terrific polenta and grilled asparagus spears. Golden roasted chicken is Italian comfort food, cooked to perfection and served with olive oil roasted potatoes and fresh sautéed spinach leaves. Diver scallops are wrapped in prosciutto and pan seared, served with roasted sweet potatoes and English pea puree and crispy pea tendrils.

Desserts are dynamite, from pick-me- up tiramisu to smooth crème brûlee and intense flourless chocolate cake. Do not forget to ask for the daily specials—the chef has spectacular surprises in store every day. “As a restaurant patron and international traveler, I see attitudes changing around the world. The current economy has humbled many, and the hospitality industry is changing for the good” said Dene. Michael’s On Naples has responded with a casual summer menu served on the rooftop terrace, at the bar or in the lounge, Sunday through Thursday. Satisfying dishes like braised oxtail panini sandwich on ciabatta bread with mozzarella or fennel roasted pork belly with provolone and Dijon mustard sauce will sooth even the most savage carnivore.

Classic spaghetti with tomatoes, basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil is perfectly executed, and the farmers’ market grilled vegetables with white balsamic vinegar dressing speak Italian like an Ischian. House made pork sausage with fennel, served with roasted peppers and beet greens are a healthy taste of the old country. Grilled prime beef with roasted potatoes and garlic aioli sauce is top of the charts at only $15. Happy Hour is every day from 5-7pm, with selected beers, wine by the glass and bar spirits half price. Michael’s on Naples is the best deal in the harbor area, and the happy clientele confirms it. The great food, good wine and value for dollar must be the reason Michael’s On Naples’ rooftop terrace is popular with locals and visitors alike. Michael Dene believes in the open sky, great wine, live music, elegant ambiance, good lighting and spectacular food. “Now, as we all go through tough times, we are trying to give everyone a memorable restaurant experience in a restaurant like Michael’s. Fine dining can be accessible at an affordable price” Dene said.

Michael’s On Naples, 5620 E.2nd Street, Naples Island, Long Beach. (562) 439-7080