Providence: Al Forno

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman

No margarita In the '90s, we heard about Al Forno. And it's not as if we didn't have pizza here. We have an entire North End where you can eat for days without going to the same place. If you started, as Al Forno did, in 1980 and you're still around, you're something. I look up "al forno." It means baked.

Rhode Island: a small place with big notions. A long time ago, I was marketing for the Diners Club. I mapped out stops in Providence on the way back to Boston from Long Island. It was before GPS. At my first stop, I had the meeting and told the manager where I was off to. How far is it? He told me: "It's seven or eight miles, it's far, you should leave now." As it turned out, I crossed a tiny bridge and I was there; it was exactly one mile.

Fear of carbs not yet in Providence When I was on the road selling MasterCard/Visa card processing, I called on Al Forno's owners. I did not get the business. Still, what was I thinking with a customer-to-be 60 miles away, who would need me right away on Friday afternoons, as everyone did? Who remembers, and how important is it now? Not very. Anyway, this spring Vince said he wanted to eat there. We decide weeks ahead only to find they have a 'no reservations for you' policy. His concierge calls to see if they have seats. They do. It is 5 pm. The GPS says it is a mile from the hotel. It is exactly one mile.

Salad with figs on endive with pears I would like to tell you that we had pizza but we did not. Grilled pizzas start at and fit on a two-top. Vince says we need a bottle of 2011 vino nobile di Montepulciano, one of his favorites,which is expensive, and optimistic considering who's at the table. Our server, Christine, is the most happening woman in Providence. Her hair is spectacular. In addition to style, she knows the menu. After we order wine but before we order food, she says we have to choose dessert. What? This is because they make everything, including ice cream, to order. So we do. Is this what they call upselling?

When it comes to ordering, it's Vince. The pear and endive salad has figs, gorgonzola and bacon in vinaigrette heavy on vinegar. When's the last time you got to eat a whole endive? The pears are ripe, the figs sweet and there's enough bacon for a smoked junkie. But you can't have it; it's no longer on the menu. What you can have instead: shrimp and mushroom salad, beat and bean salad (I assume they mean beet but it could be diced hippie), beans and fennel, Caesar, beets with frites or avocado but not together, or a grass salad which is sans actual grass and sounds sort of Cobb-y but isn't.

Whole bass Now we are full. I try not to eat focaccia. And I've had too much wine. My fish, a special, is roasted whole bass, which is not easy to say with a straight face. (A whole bass) It has salty olives and a ton of broccoli and potatoes. (You can't have this either.) I don't finish the fresh bass so Christine packs it up. The next day, right from a crinkled aluminum box, it works, with enough green to make my quota with no effort. There must be daily fish: I'm guessing Rhode Island fluke, bluefish, eel and scup at the least show up. Have them.


gnocchi There are people I eat with, and they know who they are, who know how to order the best thing on the menu wherever we go. That they can eat whatever they want doesn't hurt. Vince has pasta: gnocchi with sausage in ragu that's creamy and spicy. It is great and lucky for me, he can't finish. And the wine, we don't finish it either. Tomorrow, it's all in company in a leftovers mélange that beats the usual chicken or tuna. Yes, this you can have; gnocchi is on the menu today. If you're in Providence at 5 pm and there are seats, and you don't mind waiting, have it. If you don't finish your wine, it's corked and packed to go.

cutesy baby cake Here's our dessert: they call it baby cake. I wouldn't name anything that, still. It's buttery, not sweet with warm fruit seasonally tart: we think rhubarb, strawberries, maybe cherries or plums, all the stuff you know you should be eating. There's sugar, vanilla with bean specks and what looks to be ice cream but isn't. We know for a fact the chef made it for us. You, however, can't have this either. But there is more, like worth of cookies, or crepes, chocolate cake, and fruit tarts, which are similar but not matching.

The restaurant is an old loft with big windows and tile floors. Downstairs, where we sat in the sunroom, is full and so is the bar with rowdies. After, we take ourselves to the second floor 'for the view,' we tell the host. Tables are empty. It doesn't jive with the line of people who are waiting. Or maybe it does. Some of us find this disturbing. It doesn't pay to be sure of yourself.



Al Forno
577 South Water St
Providence, RI 02903
401. 273. 9760

© July 18, 2016 Vince Ciotti knows wine and Italian food. Kitty Kaufman drinks wine when someone who knows what they're doing orders the wine, or if no one's making margaritas. See more of their annual Providence food adventures at Corporate Edge and follow Kitty on Twitter
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