Sunday, October 15, 2006

(Sort Of) Review: Il Fornaio

I've tried to review Il Fornaio for other sites in the past, and I've come to the reluctant conclusion that I simply can't be objective about my favorite restaurant.

Yes, I know they're a chain, and yes, I know they used to be trendier, hipper, happeninger, and better than they are today. But I still adore the food and the atmosphere, which somehome manages to stay consistent even though each individual restaurant is slightly different.

Il Fornaio came to Colorado shortly after we did, starting with the Denver LoDo location, then expanding to Flatirons out by Boulder and then to Greenwood Village, closer to us. Closer is a relative term because it's still a good 45 minute drive even without traffic, rain, and the idiots who think you have to tailgate someone for awhile first before it's ok to pass them. (Ranting about Denver drivers is for another day and the other blog.)

The first two weeks of each month, give or take a few days, Il Fornaio runs their "Festa Regionale", where they highlight dishes, wines, and ingredients of one of Italy's regions. The Festa menus are rarely adventurous, but they always tend to have some interesting offerings. More importantly, Passporto holders receive some kind of bonus if they order at least one item off the regional menu. (Passporti are free either at the restaurant or by signing up on their website. If you attend all six regions on the Passporto, you are entered in a drawing for a free trip to Italy. Needless to say, we haven't won.)

Since this is the last weekend of the October Festa, we made a point of having dinner at Il Fornaio in Greenwood Village this weekend. This month's region was Lombardia.

The regional bread was cornmeal based and was absolutely fantastic. Some of the regional breads are a little iffy, but this was like American cornbread if it were a real bread and not a quick bread. It was only slightly crumbly, with a good dense texture and chewyness, and a light corn flavor. We liked it so much we got a loaf to take home - it's going to make extraordinary toast.

Two of the entrees on the regional menu leapt out at me - the osso buco and the filetto with gorgonzola sauce. I ordered the former and my husband ordered the latter.

I've had Il Fornaio's osso buco before (probably the last time they did Lombardia), and I remembered it accurately: falling apart tender, deep flavor, and a tomato sauce that I tried to analyze with every bite. I want to learn to make tomato sauce like that. It was everything osso buco should be.

Sadly, the saffron risotto served alongside was everything risotto shouldn't be: flavorless, dry, and undercooked. Yes, I know risotto should be served al dente, but this was not yet to the al dente stage - it was hard and stuck in my teeth as I chewed it. That's undercooked. Five more minutes in the saute pan and another ladle or two of chicken stock would have gone a long way.

The filetto was wonderful - flavorful and tender. A lot of filet gets the tender right, but doesn't come through with the beef flavor. This stood up well to the gorgonzola sauce. A polenta cake and spinach was served alongside, but we both thought the spinach was really Swiss chard (probably due to the latest spinach issues and ensuing panic).

I ordered the Rosina for dessert: thin circle of sponge cake, raspberries, chocolate mousse, chocolate coating. I have had it before and it's the item to order when you're in the mood for chocolate. I didn't quite finish, but I did eat all the chocolate.

Due to the louder than usual noise in the restaurant, my husband's dessert order was misheard and he was served the campari and grapefruit sorbet instead of the pear and amaretto cake (both regional desserts). To the server's credit he corrected the dessert as soon as we could catch him, and left the sorbet as well. We also left it - it was extremely sour and neither of us liked it at all. The pear and amaretto cake was really more of a rustic tart - a crust closer to shortbread than pie crust, lots of pears, and lots of almonds, drizzled with chocolate and served with creme anglaise. It was far better than the sorbet, but way too almondy for my taste.

The coffee at Il Fornaio is terrific - very strong but very smooth. That goes for the decaf, too. You know a place takes its coffee seriously when decaf isn't just an afterthought.

The bonus this month was a ceramic olive oil pitcher - it's very cute, yellow with painted olives. It sort of matches the ceramic olive oil dishes from the past two years, which is why we made of point of getting them. (We use the olive oil dishes for small salads and dipping sauces all the time - they've been among the most useful gifts we've received from any establishment).

I always look forward to going to Il Fornaio - while I know I'm not going to hit the very pinnacle of dining, I know I'm going to have a good meal in comfortable surroundings. The older I get the more I appreciate that.

(Date of visit: 10/14/06)


Post a Comment

<< Home