Saturday, November 7, 2009

Il Fornaio Serves Up a Recession Busting Tasting Menu

Il Fornaio started a tasting menu several months ago, encouraging customers to visit and sample the regional menus that are offered two weeks at the start of each month. For $29.99, choices can be made from the soup and antipasti, pasta, and main course menus.

We visited our favorite branch of Il Fornaio (1551 Ocean Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310/451-7800) across from the Santa Monica pier to have this month's selection from the Piemonte region, bordered by France, Lombardia, and Switzerland. Befitting an area with a colder climate, the dishes are comforting and savory, perfect for fighting off the mountain chill.

We happily started with the Potato and Leek Soup (Zuppa di Patate Porcini e Porri), served hot with a toasted disk of Il Fornaio's country white bread topped with a thick coating of melted fontina cheese. Finely chopped sauteed porcini mushrooms supplied the sweetness, complimenting the salty broth. A glass of Gavi, Patasiolo (2008) was the perfect companion.

For our pasta, we ordered the Cheese Ravioli with Porcini Sauce (Agnolotti di Fonduta ai Porcini). With the first bite, the porcinis dominated, suggesting that this was one of those dishes where the pasta was merely a delivery system for a richly flavored sauce. But the agnolotti were an amiable partner in this marriage of equals. With just a hint of white truffle oil--which is all too often applied with a heavy hand, the better to trumpet a restaurant's grand largess--the mild ravioli stuffed with fontina acquired a light but determined accent of roasted nuts.

For the main course, we had our choice of a Breaded Chicken Breast with ham and fontina cheese (Suprema di Pollo Ripiena), Roast Pork Loin with Figs and Sage (Maiale alla Piemontese), or Wild Seabass with Sauteed Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes (Filetto di Branzino all'Uva).

We were in the mood for a lighter dish, so we chose the seabass with the accompanying sauteed whole stems of broccoli-rabe, mashed potatoes, baby carrots and yellow squash. Halved green grapes and musky thyme complimented the sweet, moist fish, served in a delicate Champagne vinegar sauce.

To finish the meal, we treated ourselves to the regional dessert, an Amaretto-Coffee Custard (Bonet Classico), served with a caramel-coffee-creme anglaise sauce, the perfect ending to a delicious meal.

The Piemonte Regionale is served from November 2-15. If you're going to the American Film Market or Cirque du Soleil across the street or if you're just out on the town looking for an delicious, affordable meal, it's easy enough to stop by Il Fornaio in Santa Monica.

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

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