For us, that's how we feel about the Il Fornaio (1551 Ocean Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310/451-7800) across from the Santa Monica pier. Several times a month we meet with friends, try out as many dishes as we can, have a cocktail or two, drink a little wine, and share a dessert.
For two weeks at the start of each month, Il Fornaio has a Festa Regionale that features a different region of Italy.
During the Regionale, Il Fornaio offers a tasting menu with a sampling from the soup and antipasti menu, one from the pasta course, and a full sized portion from the meat and fish menu. The servings are large enough to be shared by two and the price is just under $30.00.
The gift this month--if you ask for a Festa Regionale passport and have it stamped, you'll receive a special gift--was a package of mushroom risotto. A very nice take-away.
This month's regional menu (September 7-20) features the region of Abruzzo. Located on the Adriatic Sea, in the mid-section of the Italian peninsula, the cuisine includes the vibrant dishes of the south with beautifully ripe tomatoes (La Pummadore A'nsalata) as well as the hearty braised meats (Maccheroni Alla Chitarra & Risotto con Ragu Di Pesce) of the north.
Between the six of us, we sampled most of the menu along with the two regional wines. We had glasses of the lovely Trebbiano d'Abruzzo (Valle Reale, Vigne Nuove, 2008) which went perfectly with the Lobster bisque (Zuppa d'Argaosta al Tartufo Nero). The bisque had the strong flavors of the sea since no cream or potato puree was added. The Trebbiano was also a good companion for the wild arugula salad (Prosciutto Cacio E Pere) topped with a delicate prosciutto, peppered pecorino cheese, and the thinnest sliced pears I've ever seen.
With the lamb chops (Costicine d'Agnello) , perfectly cooked and spread out on the plate like an elegant fan, we had the very nice Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (Cataldi Madonna, 2006).
Our favorite pasta from the menu was the pasta with lamb ragu (Maccheroni alla Chitarra). The braised flavors were deep and rich. The strands of meat were perfectly tender with just the right amount of salt.
Saving the best for last, the icy-cold custard (Semifreddo al Torrone con Punch Abruzzzese) with almond nougat was delicious. To eat the dessert we were given extra long spoons so we could reach across the table and share the plate.
In the competition to eat as much of the semifreddo as possible, the spoons became weapons-of-mass-consumption.
For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica
Friuli-Venezia Giulia at Il Fornaio