Since there seems to be so much interest in Al Forno on the message boards of late, I thought I'd throw my own two cents in.
My 5th year living in Providence, and this past Saturday was the first I'd made it to Al Forno - never really a fan of the no-reservations policy, plus there were (and are) so many other wonderful places to try in Providence that I'd just never gotten around to it.. but friends came down from Boston for the evening, and they had fond memories having been several times in the past. So, I figured, might as well.
They called as they were leaving Boston, and I called the restaurant on the off-chance that I'd be able to put my name down on the list without having to be there in person (having heard horror stories about the wait) - and it was that easy, the wait was an hour, approximately the same amount of time that it'd take my friends to get to Providence. They got into town, picked me up, and off we went.
There was no wait when we got there at 8:40, nobody waiting either, and we were shown immediately to our table in the upstairs room. Three of us in the party, we started with cocktails while looking over the wine list and menu. There were no specials, and so we ordered, starting with the antipasto platter. A nice little spread - Tuscan white bean purée, marinated roasted red bell peppers, marinated olives, grilled eggplant caponata (?), a slice of egg frittata, fresh mozzarella, grilled onions, and prosciutto - nothing terribly exciting, but pleasing nonetheless.
The bottle of wine - a Barbaresco - we had requested was no longer in stock, so we got another red from the Piedmont region, the name of which I unfortunately forget. As main courses, I had the grilled pesto chicken, served with a portabella mushroom and chèvre mashed potatoes. Yes, I admit, I ordered it for the mashed potatoes, which were lovely, the slightest hint of chèvre, and the scallions scattered atop which kept falling in added a surprisingly nice touch. The grilled chicken breast was good, skin left on and a little crispy, which I like, but overall not terribly spectacular, and the pesto was a bit bland and non-descript. One friend ordered the baked pasta in the pink - a sizzling dish of pasta shells with tomato sauce and 5 cheeses. This was wonderful, much tastier, and the burnt shells were the best part. The other friend ordered the papparedelle with Tuscan chicken sauce - I only had a small bite, so I can't pass judgement, but he was a big fan of his own dish (and of the pasta in the pink).
We ordered two desserts for the table. The first was an upside-down pineapple cake. While I'm not a fan of cooked pineapple, finding them too often cloyingly sweet, in this instance they were not, which was nice, and the cake base was the perfect consistency and balanced out the pineapples well. The other dessert was the native apple crisp tart, which was more like an apple galette with some "crisp" sprinkled on top. The apples were a little mushy, but the pastry shell was nice and buttery and but not as flaky as I would have liked. It would have been better served with a small scoop of ice cream - perhaps some of the homemade vanilla that was one of the other dessert options? - yet as desserts were "made to order", and ordered with the entrees, there was unfortunately none to be had. (I've had a much better apple galette - with vanilla ice cream! - at Parkside.) We ended up being the last table there, and they were already cleaning the bar as we exited.
Other thoughts.. Service was prompt, the waiter was friendly. Found it interesting that they also had items for sale composing the latter half of the menu - is that really necessary? No mirrors in the bathrooms, which I found slightly annoying - there was one in the hall just outside the bathrooms though. But does everyone really want to see me apply lipstick and check my teeth for pesto remnants? Dinner, with tip, came to about $80/person. It was good, the experience probably made better because the company was so enjoyable - but would I go back? Hrm.. probably not. Over-hyped? Yes indeed. For that sum, I know I can get a much better meal elsewhere in town.
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