Al Forno
December 20, 2008, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After we were dumped with a foot of snow on Friday, we decided to truge over to Providence’s famous Al Forno restaurant. They only take reservations for parties of 6 or more, so dinner for 2 usually means waiting at least an hour. Thus we decided that the middle of a blizzard would be a great time to go without any wait. There’s a semi-outdoor garden area where you can eat in the summer, and we had to walk through it to get to the front door. It’s beautiful in the snow!

We weren’t the only ones in the restaurant, but we didn’t have to wait either. They are famous for their Italian-American style influences and wood-grilled pizzas and meats, and the smells that come out of that place during the summer are awesome. The owners even have two cookbooks out.

Brian started with a buffalo mozzarella salad. Slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella sitting on wafer-thin lemon slices, and with an olive oil-lemon dressing and a little salad on top. The flavor of the mozzarella and lemon dressing was beautiful. The olive oil taste was strong, and the lemon zest made it lemony without being tart, and each slice had the perfect amount of crunchy salt. And there must have been 8 oz of  mozzarella there. No one should eat that much cheese! Lucky for me he shared.

For dinner I had roasted clams, spicy sausage, and onions in a light tomato sauce, with mashed potatoes and shaved endive. The clams were fresh and tender, no dirt at all. The tomato sauce complimented the clams perfectly; it had a tiny bit of creamyness but was very light and not too acidic or salty. The spicy sausage was really good on its own, but I thought it was too strong for the clams. The smashed potatoes were made with red potatoes, my favorite kind!

Brian had veal cutlets that were stuffed with fontina and scallions, then breaded & fried and topped with gremolata, which I later learned is garlic, parsley and lemon peel finelely chopped and sprinkled on top. It came with sauteed broccoli rabe. He ate one cutlet, and I just ate the other one for lunch. Both of our meals had really good “balance.” The rich veal cutlets with the simply cooked greens, with bitterness to cut the richness; the light sauce for the clams and the rich potatoes.

The restaurant had a really cozy feel. This was the view from our table:

The desserts are made to order, which is why you have to order them at the same time you order your meal. At other restaurants, the desserts are pre-made and they just drizzle some sauce on it before serving. So made-to-order means it actually gets made and put into the oven fresh for you. For dessert we chose the “double chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream.” And get this: For an extra $20, you can add a personal bottle (for 2) of tawny port. A genius idea! I thought the cake looked rather small when it arrived, but it turned out to be flourless and more like a ganache, with solid chips of chocolate hidden inside. It was very dark and chocolatey and rich, so it was definitely enough to share. Our entire dessert cost $30 which sounds like a lot, but the cost of 1 dessert + 2 glasses of port would be the same. This way, we each got almost 2 full pours of port. Obviously I’m not an expert wine taster, but this port was not as “thick”, and a little more red wine-ish than ports we usually drink. It was actually a great compliment to the thick chocolate, because a richer port would have been way too much sweet going on at the same time. Again, these folks really know how to balance tastes & textures.

When I read amateur reviews of the place, the first thing people complain about is it being super expensive. I was nervous about how much it would cost, since no one actually said what the costs were. Here’s a general rundown of the prices:

Appetizers = $15
Pizza and pasta entrees = $20
Meats & roasts = $30
Desserts = $15.

So I dunno, its a splurge for someone like me with little income but I don’t get why people complain sooo much. The prices are slightly lower than “upscale” and on par many other good places in the city.


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