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By Jo Murray | Contributor



Photos credit courtesy of Michael's on Naples

“Michael, don’t eat out of a can!” 

That is the healthy eating advice that Michael Dene’s mother, who lived to be almost 100, taught him.  It is the philosophy behind Michael's on Naples Ristorante. 

“Farm fresh produce, fresh caught fish, seasonal cooking-that is a lifestyle that I cannot forget” Dene said when he speaks of his upbringing.

After years trekking internationally in his lighting industry career -he wanted to find a California city he could call home.  His second calling as a restaurateur was his destiny after decades of consulting with those designing some of the most beautiful restaurants in the world. 

Back in 1993- wife Patti Dene spent 6 months looking for the city in California where she and Michael would be most happy. They were worldly New Yorkers with miles of travel under their belts. 

After a six-month search, Michael was surprised to learn that Patti had carefully selected Long Beach as home.

“I love this neighborhood. It is a big-little city, people here look me in the eye when I talk to them, stores are a quick walk” she told her husband on why Long Beach had captured her heart.

The couple had found their home. The concept of opening a restaurant wasn’t even on the horizon yet. 

Fifteen years later Patricia and Michael entered a new chapter in their lives when they opened Michael's on Naples Ristorante. Today the restaurant embraces Naples’ community passion for all things Italian. Patti’s passing in 2015 was tough on the Dene family and the community that loved her- yet her insightfulness in choosing Long Beach lives on.

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Near the north-western region of Orange County, the Naples area of Long Beach is a hidden gem. Romantic canals with gondoliers serenading couples, Italian street names, and one of the first Long Beach eateries to garner top Zagat ratings. 

Food critics agree- Michael’s is not only one of the finest restaurants in Long Beach- it is among the best in all of Los Angeles County.

Diners enjoy an authentic Italian culinary experience in an understated two-story building - where downstairs there are elegant Murano glass lamps and white linen tablecloths. Upstairs, a rooftop terrace with a dining area and bar beneath a retractable roof that creates a comfortable open-air lounge for a more casual evening.

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“We love what we do here - the food, the wine, the presentation,” Owner Michael Dene says with passion in his voice.

A visit to Michaels is more than a great dinner. It is an experience. It starts with a philosophy inspired by Italian freshness- seasonal food prepared in-house fresh each day.

The evening might begin in the upstairs patio-open to the sky, yet protected from the elements. The General Manager, Massimo Aronne, leads a 20-minute discussion each day with his well-trained staff to share news on sourcing and how things are prepared.  He goes over the menu items and suggested wine pairings.

Aronne understood “farm to table” and where food comes from long before it became trendy. It was a way of life. When he first interviewed Dene while the restaurant was under construction, the connection was instant and the two shared a vision of what an extraordinary dining experience must include.

Having every member of the staff see their role is key.

The results of those pre-shift tags-ups are evident- servers pronounce Italian terms with flair, offer wine pairings or cocktail suggestions, and they can explain with confidence how menu items are prepared in great detail.

Aronne grew up in his family’s Italian seaside restaurant in the town of Liguria, where dinner menus were written on a chalkboard each day. The selections were based on what the local fishermen had caught. Liguria is often credited with being the home of pesto sauce, a staple of Mediterranean cuisine.

The menu at Michaels often has two tasting menus- a 5-course dinner at $85pp or $125 with wine pairings and a 4-course meal for $65pp or $105 with wine pairings. The Sous Chef JJ and the entire kitchen staff collaborate on creating these and everyone at the table needs to opt for the tasting menu.



Everyone has a pulse on the newest ideas and trends in California and the world. Dene hosted Chef Samaniego's recent visit to Italy where he worked in the kitchens there and ate and drank the local offerings. Aronne and Samaniego plan to travel to Italy together soon for inspiration. Michael has been spending time with family in Calistoga- exploring wineries, tasting and thinking how to apply the innovations he learns locally.


The staff is well trained and are all storytellers at heart. Each course that is served is an opportunity to learn about the locally sourced ingredients, the farmers that are part of the Santa Monica farmers market, and the method of preparation.

Craft Cocktails- There are 11 different cocktails on the Negroni menu.  An Italian classic, Negroni has perfected the balance of bitter and sweet. The mixologists are skilled at customizing cocktails.

Sunday Brunch- on the Rooftop from 10:30AM-2:30PM -The rooftop is warm, sunny, and vibrant on most Sunday mornings. A popular way to start the day is with a Ciacco D’Oro- coffee infused Whistle Pig 10-year, maple, lemon, Pancetta.

The brunch menu features Pane Tosato- Carmel mascarpone stuffed French toast, farmers market apples, and toasted walnuts.

Pizza- Michael’s Pizzeria 2nd St. recently merged with the restaurant so those that enjoy their famous made from scratch Napoli style wood-fired pizzas can now enjoy them on the rooftop, in the dining room, or at the bar with their favorite cocktail. 

There are 10-12 different pizzas offered each evening- they often include creative blending of tastes - such as: The Puttanesca that has both anchovies and capers on a pizza with a classic red sauce and house-made mozzarella cheese. 

The Carbonara has a thin crust with crisp edges and a crisp bottom while still soft on the top. The eggs make the pizza special as they come as a runny yolk bringing flavor in every bite.

The Market- Michael’s is a completely scratch-based kitchen located where the pizzeria was located. All of the pastas and sauces are handmade daily. 

During the pandemic shut down, many of the regular diners longed for the house made pasta, the mozzarella cheese, the flavorful sauces- and frequently ordered food to go. The Market takes that concept to the next level. It also is a nod to Patti Dene’s attraction to Long Beach and the local friendliness.

With the addition of the market-diners can take home their favorites- ready made. The popularity of the market has prompted extended hours-until 8PM on weekends.



Chef Samaniego was born in Orange and he, with his two siblings, were raised by a single parent- their electrician father. When one sibling became seriously ill, the family moved to Visalia, an agricultural city. His father’s mother, Carmen lived with them to help the family.

Eric spent time in the kitchen learning from her and cooking with fresh vegetables grown by nearby farmers. She taught him how to make many of their family recipes. Often- even today- she will prepare some of his favorites and put them in containers in the refrigerator -just for him. The grab and go refrigerator section of the new Michael’s Market has a vibe like Grandma Carmen’s containers of home-made goodness.

Grandmother and grandson enjoyed watching public television’s Julia Child “The French Chef.”  He held onto every word and the “ingenuity, resourcefulness, and lively spirit” that Child is known for. 

Thanks to Carmen and Julia, at an early age Chef Samaniego knew he wanted to be a chef.

At age 15, he started working as a buffet attendant at his local Hometown Buffet. In his career he has held positions at Charlie Trotters, Sona, Comme Ça, and was the opening chef at Santa Ana’s Little Bird. 

Chef Samaniego, who appeared on Bravo’s “The Best Restaurant” a few years back, is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Denver where he studied Culinary Arts and Food Service Management. 

Other notable graduates of Johnson & Wales include: Chef Emeril Lagasse, the chef-proprietor of ten restaurants nationwide, a TV personality, and best-selling cookbook author, Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper, the winner of the FoxNetwork’s “Hell’s Kitchen” grand prize, Chef Adrianne Calvo, recently named one of the best chefs in the world by Chef Report, Chef Tyler Florence, culinary TV personality on the Food Network and currently host of Tyler’s Ultimate, Chef Michelle Bernstein, 2008 James Beard Award Winner, cohost of the Food Network’s Melting Pot, and a winner of Iron Chef America, Chef Anna Olson, the host of Fresh with Anna Olson on Food Network Canada, and Chef Jeremy Fox, Chef and Partner of Ubuntu in Napa. 

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