Providence: Al Forno

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman

No margarita In the '90s, we heard about Al Forno in Providence. 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. Thank goodness. What was I thinking with a customer-to-be 60 miles away, who would need me right away on Friday afternoons, as everyone did? Anyway, Vince said he wanted to eat there. We call 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. 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. This is 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. It has Greek 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 are cookies, crepes, chocolate cake, and fruit tarts, which are similar but not matching.

The restaurant is in an old loft building with big windows and tile floors. Downstairs, where we sat in the sunroom, is full and so is the bar, with townies. 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. One of us finds this disturbing. It never pays to be that sure of yourself.

January 2021: The more I think about this meal, the weirder it becomes. Providence has that effect. They're doing takeout and just so you know, the prices are stupendous.

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 if no one's making margaritas. See more of their annual Providence food adventures at Corporate Edge and follow Kitty on Twitter
Write to us:

Share with us on Twitter:

See Boston restaurant stories via One for the Table on Zomato

it's a 10 Area Four
It's a 10
hot pink Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Food, and art
fruity Flour Bakery
Eat dessert first
fishes Locanda Del Lago in Santa Monica
Italian Western
fishes Santa Monica Seafood Cafe
Fine kettle of fish
tofu Blue Dragon
fish Rino's East Boston
Cold, cold comfort
limes Island Creek Oyster Bar
Happy new year
big fish Black Trumpet in Portsmouth
Ta dah
fish on a bun El Pescador Market in La Jolla
My summer vacation
big shrimp Bar Boulud
With all due respect
© 2001-2022 all rights reserved - please write for permission