Chef Dario Barbone’s specialty delicatessen, Alimentari Aurora, on 18th street, offers family meals, snacks – pintxos – small plates, and aperitifs. Opened in the fall of 2020, during stringent shelter-in-place orders, the deli quickly became a favorite amongst residents looking for new flavors.
The deli’s menu is “unpredictable and erratic by design,” said Barbone, who challenges himself to “change the sandwiches every day,” with rotations that include panino with mortazza and pistachio pesto and kimchi grilled cheese.
The shop stocks cheeses and charcuterie, as well as dry goods, such as canned fish and chocolate, which’re unavailable elsewhere on Potrero Hill. On weekends focaccia is offered.
The deli is named after Barbone’s grandmother, Aurora, which means “sunshine” in Italian. Alimentari is Italian for “food shop/deli.”
“As a good Italian, my grandmas would take care of me while my parents were working,” said Barbone, who was born in Vercelli, Italy. “Aurora was not a great chef,” but “she taught me a little bit more then food,” conveying the value of family and friends congregating around simple ingredients, to share stories and enjoy one another’s company over a good meal.
Barbone said his grandmother Filomena was the better cook of the two elders and joked that he isn’t quite as good as her yet. As he got older, he learned that Aurora didn’t have an easy life, but never let that show as they prepared meals together in the kitchen.
“In retrospect, how much happiness she gave me through small gestures with food made me feel so inspired!” he remembered fondly.
Barbone received a Bachelors in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in 2001 and a doctorate in Molecular Medicine in 2006 from the Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale. In 2005 he moved to the Hill to finish his PhD thesis for what was “supposed to be a year,” but stayed to become an Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco in 2007.
“Science was treating me really well,” he admitted. “I was being paid, I was being respected for my ideas…but then, I kept food as a passion on the side, as has always been in my life.”
Barbone loved to cook meals in the Kansas Street apartment he’s resided in for the past 18 years, as a way of entertaining friends, spark conversations, and recreate the communal connection his grandmother had shared with him when he was a young. He discovered the Japanese concept of Ikigai, the feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment that follows when one pursues their passions; the intersection of everything one wants during their existence.
“I got tired of the life I had chosen for myself,” he said. “Aurora is potentially the reflection of this concept.”
Barbone started a popup at Provender Coffee in 2019, which rapidly morphed into a weekly event at Ruby Wine next door. When the Provender space became available in 2020, he seized the opportunity.
“I have one life, the place is small enough, it’s next to my friend (Ruby). The two of us are basically like Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, tag team number one,” he joked.
They built a parklet to give customers a place to interact, hoping to “gather people, and to give them a warm experience around food.”
“The selection that I have, you don’t find…I ship fish tins to 80 plus people once a month,” Barbone said, 30 of which are sent nationwide.
Alimentari offers five different kinds of pâté,” Barbone said, because “people don’t really have a good pâté experience here.”
With the shop almost at capacity, “I want to keep the cooking where it is,” he confessed, “I don’t think I can cook more. After a life of doing science, what really makes me happy is slicing meats, and talking about it! It’s all about you entering that door and talking to me…too me, that’s the added value of the whole experience…you might buy or taste something that you never thought you needed…You come here, and you know you’re going to have something new in your hands!”