Marlena in Naples, the new restaurant serving seasonal, California cuisine inspired by European influence, will open today.
Like many restaurants, the eatery will start in a “soft opening” phase where doors are open and customers can begin getting their fill as staff get accustomed to the new flow of service. A grand opening, pending final permits from the city and final construction touches, will come later.
While its menu can be described as Mediterranean (you’ll find classics like pizza, pasta, and focaccia on it), owner Robert Smith said he would really describe the restaurant as California cuisine, which can encapsulate multiple types of food under the umbrella of chef-driven, seasonal and sustainably sourced dishes.
“What is true to my story is being authentically California,” Smith said. He was born in Orange County before living in Oakland for a number of years.
Ultimately, California cuisine is what the restaurant aims for: high-quality ingredients showcased through great technique.
Smith’s travels to Spain, Italy and other European countries, as well as living abroad, deeply shaped, and inspired his food tastes. It’s why there’s a fried ricotta gnocchi with fennel sausage, nduja (spicy Southern Italian sausage), roasted tomato, broccolini and caciocavallo (Italian cheese) on the menu. Or a small plate of grilled Spanish octopus with romesco (tomato-based Spanish sauce), crunchy chickpeas and aged sherry vinegar.
“I describe it as a road trip from Sicily to Andalusia,” Smith said.
The restaurant’s chef, Michael Ryan, had stints at renowned L.A. restaurants, like Rustic Canyon, a Michelin-recognized restaurant that notably cooks sustainably sourced, California-grown, ingredients, and he was previously the head chef at the Long Beach Museum of Art before joining Marlena.
“I like well-done, quality things and selecting great ingredients,” Smith said. The restaurant bought a Spanish wood charcoal oven to grill its local striped sea bass with cherry tomatoes and dragon tongue beans and its 8-ounce Black Opal wagyu hanger steak with salsa verde.
Because the menu is so focused on seasonal produce, some items can be made vegetarian or vegan. Its eight pizza options can be made gluten-free.
The restaurant’s full bar will have some recognizable draft beers, like Beachwood Brewing, and European bottled beer as well as craft cocktails.
In addition to dinner service, the restaurant will have a cafe open daily serving coffee classics like expressos and cappuccinos as well as a bourbon vanilla latte and a 72% cacao mocha. Pastries and snacks, like a ham and cheese croissant or a kouign-amann (sweet, multi-layered cake), are also available.
The opening has been a long time coming for Smith, who has been working in Italian food for twenty years, but he also attended Cal State Long Beach for college and had a stint in the corporate world before landing in the hospitality industry.
“I got into restaurants because it seemed creative,” Smith said. “I didn’t know all that went into it, but for me, it was about passion, choice and personal interest.”
His return to a city he loves after so many years away could not have come at a more perfect time.
“We have an atmosphere locals will appreciate,” Smith said. “Long Beach has this moment Oakland had [a few years ago], it has the weather, the diversity, the cultural richness. I love it here, it’s an exciting time to be in Long Beach.”
The cafe will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The restaurant and bar will be open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Marlena is located at 5854 East Naples Plaza.