Italian >Al Forno
577 S Main St, Providence, RI | Directions 0290341.817319 -71.400589
Neighborhoods: Fox Point
Loved it – I have read some reviews of Al Forno, and I wonder how a few diners can report such negative experiences at the restaurant we ate at just last night and enjoyed so thoroughly!
First of all, our party of 4 made it a point to not visit Al Forno at a peak hour, thereby avoiding the long wait I had been told to expect. We arrived at 6:15 on a Thursday and first impression was - wow a whole parking lot (free!) just for Al Forno customers. (Eating in other city-based restaurants its often an ordeal just finding a place for the car!).
We were greeted warmly and seated next to a window in the first floor dining room. We thought the ambiance was nice, with the dusk light coming in and the river-view just below. OK, yes, its a great view of the cars in the lot too, but what the heck. Also, as it grew darker, the view of the lit bridge crossing the river made a pleasant backdrop.
We liked the white-washed walls and exposed brick of this old mill building and the sparkling old-glass windows which viewed outside on one wall and served as a separator from the open kitchen on the opposite wall. The tables were spaced far enough apart so that conversations didn't overpower. It got busy quickly, by the way, and within 20 minutes the room was full.
Our server approached us immediately and wasted no time getting drinks to us and we ordered 2 appetizers to share: calamari and bruschetta. Unlike at some restaurants where the drinks are done by the time the appetizers finally arrive, these came promptly and, as was the case all evening, served by a "team" who managed table space for us so that our clean white tablecloth setting was neat and not cluttered by used plates and utensils. Our servers were cheerful, efficient and very attentive to us throughout the meal.
2 of us ordered a kind of deconstructed lasagna served with rib-eye meatballs in a red sauce. It was delicious.
Another ordered linguine with egg and duck bacon in a white sauce which was also very good. I ordered Rotini with veal bolognese sauce which I like a lot. We stuck with the pasta menu - all about $20 and avoided the entree's which looked very appetizing too but priced at least $10-$15 more were not in our budget. We opted for a second cocktail instead!!
And yes, desserts are ordered along with the dinner right up front. We split 2 desserts, both of the chocolate variety. It's probable that we might have passed on the desserts if we had waited until after the meal to consider, so I think AF may be onto something here. Commit early and enjoy anyway! My double chocolate cake was very good - dense and rich and served with home-made whipped cream.
Our total bill was reasonable and we felt as though we had delicious, unusually-prepared Italian food and great drinks at a good price. We were out by 8 and never felt rushed.
We took a look upstairs as we left - a different atmosphere - maybe more casual and definitely more crowded and noisy. Darker, with a fireplace which is probably lit as the season changes. There's a nice large bar on each floor which also has tables and serves from the menu.
As we left we agreed it was well worth the trip down from MA - quicker for us that going to Boston - and would do so again soon!
What's all the fuss about? – When you walk up the entranceway to Al Forno you really think you are in for something special. The arbor of white lights leading the path to the front door is quite beautiful as is the building with large elegant mill-style windows where you get a glimpse of many patrons enjoying what you expect to be a great meal. But the magic sadly ends there. Once you walk into the building you have no idea where to go—through the door to your right or up to second the floor. My husband and I decided to go through the door to the right. After walking down a tight hallway, we thought we made the wrong decision. There was no station to greet diners and take the details of their reservations. Instead we stood between a wall and a bar deciding where to go. Not long after standing there aimlessly, a waiter came by to see if we needed help. After a short wait, he was able to get us to our seats. The seats and table were miniature. My husband, who is over 6 feet tall, couldn’t get his legs under the table. The dining tables, while covered in white tablecloths, looked like furniture from my grandmother’s basement. The chairs, made of rattan, were covered in very worn animal print patterns. While sitting there reviewing the menu, which looked delicious, I couldn’t help but take in the décor—commercial grade, fast food kitchen tiles on the walls, dirty tiled floors, and corn garland draped from the ceilings (guess they forgot that it’s not autumn anymore). Even, the little lamp on our table was low-end—a window candle that had a little lamp shade squeezed on top of it. Our waiter then came over and I had to do everything I could not to laugh at his overly stuffy presentation of the night’s specials. And, upon delivering our drinks, he worked with such precision making sure he placed the glasses just so, making sure that the knife, fork and plate were in perfect harmony. I thought maybe it was just him, but when I observed the other waiters I began to think they were all trained by a lead Nazi waiter. Each waiter worked so precisely making sure they were exactly a foot away from the table when opening a bottle of wine, making sure they folded the napkins in threes and never ever cracked a smile—was that out of fear? Was someone watching them? I began to wonder. But, the service was also very spotty—our drinks didn’t get refilled when we needed and I observed the same thing with the tables around me. The food was delicious, but not the best I ever had and not really worth the hefty price tag. Will I go again? Probably not. Providence has so many excellent restaurants and this one wasn’t worth the hype. I’m still wondering what all the fuss is about.
Can't recommend this place anymore – I have recommended Al Forno to so many people over the years, and always go out of my way to go there...BUT NOT ANYMORE. The past 4 times I've gone, while the food has been good, the service has not. And it's not a question of 'casual'...it's a question of 'unprofessional.'
Here's one small example: last time I went, party of 4, a pizza we ordered for the table arrived with one of the appetizers...the other three came later. Then all four mains arrived at different times: mine about 5 mins. before the second and third, and about 15 mins. before the fourth...which we only got because we flagged down a server who was carrying what looked like might be our dish like a lost lamb in the dining room. Of course by then mine was cold. I suppose I could've sent it back, but then everyone else's would've gotten cold while we waited for it to refire. So it was hardly a pleasant dining experience for the four of us. C'mon, this is restaurant 101! And there are many other recent examples which I won't go into here for the sake of brevity. Suffice to say, I am now embarrassed to send people here. No restaurant should have service that bad, especially one that charges $30+ for a main course
Best Italian Restaurant in Providence ? – We had guests coming in from South Carolina, and on the plane they sat next to a former chef of Al Forno, who highly recommended it.
So we went Saturday and as we were told they did not take reservations we came early, only to discover that due to graduation parties they did reservations and everything was booked. But after begging a little bit, we managed to get a table in an hour.
Meanwhile we enjoyed a good glass of wine from their extensive winelist, while we were browsing the menu.
It was really hard to decide what to get as they had so many courses that sounded good.
When we got our table our waitress was SO good in going over the specials, and answering questions. The way she explained the dishes was very visual, and she really knew what she was talking about.
We shared an appetitzer, which was a simple spinach salad with bacon and parmesan cheese. And it really showed how simplecity makes perfect.
When our entrees arrived they all looked terrific. I had a Meatball cheater lasagne, with the best meatballs. The lasagne part was good, but not over the top. But then i tasted my wifes Pasta, which was heavenly. Also I tasted my sister-in-laws gnocchi with hot sausage sauce and it was really good too.
The atmosfear at the restaurant was very nice, the service was knowledgeable and service minded and the price was reasonable for the quality of the food. A list plus was there were no loud music playing or no televisions, which I appreciate coming from Europe.
Thanks Al Forno - I will be back
Disappointed – You definitely can't complain about the food, but the atmosphere is unpleasant. Upstairs, there is a long window between the dining room and the servers station. This was a very ill-conceived architectural feature as it detracts greatly from the atmosphere. I imagine the reason for the window is so the servers can keep an eye on their stations so they know when you are ready for the next course, or a drink refill, etc. However, in practice it amounts to a gallery of disembodied heads openly staring at you from very close range. They seemed to think that the glass was one-way, and I found it incredibly rude. I felt like I was in a line-up, while I was trying to enjoy my dinner. That being said, the food was better than average, not spectacular, and overpriced. If a meal for two (no alcohol) costs $140, the food should be outstanding, and it simply isn't.
Pearls before swine vs Noblesse oblige – The rating posted on 09/06/2003 by mal054 really sums the place up.
mal054 worked there, and manages to misspell the word "professional".
He also reminds us that anyone who does not love the place is a "stuck up snob".
That kind of love for the customer makes you really want to go there!
Rhode Island's most famous is also one of her best. – Al Forno is a difficult place to review. The hype is so thick that you could almost eat it instead of the food. After reading others? horror stories, and experiencing a little of it myself, I?m hesitant to give a good review, but since I can only go on myself, I must. It is one of Rhode Island?s best restaurants and certainly worthy of much hype. Julia Child ate here every time she was in the area, and I can certainly understand why she did so. The food is stellar. House specialties, such as Clams Al Forno and the grilled pizza margarita, are delectable. Dishes are served simple and perfectly cooked. Sometimes, too simple. The bruschetta costs a fair amount and is TRUE bruschetta, namely, toast. As far as I?m concerned, their baked pasta with five cheeses is the only dish you should ever get. But, if you must deviate, the oven roasted lemon chicken breast is a treat for the mouth. Delicate, tender, slightly tangy, it?s just ab-fab. Their specials are almost always brilliant and delicious (albeit sometimes pricey) and a real reason to come back. The wine list is a surprising disappointment. The dessert menu, on the other hand, is one of the best, filled with great, inventive desserts that can be had nowhere else. They cost a pretty penny, though, ranging from $9 to $18. The service I had was basically perfect. Water and wine flowed, frequent attention, and pleasant demeanor made us feel welcome. The wait was terrible, and some of the employees seemed not arrogant, but annoyed, as other reviews have said. The ceaseless flow of pretentious(!) customers could explain that. Still, it?s unacceptable. Whether you think the sometimes absurd wait is worth it or not is up to you. Frankly, I?ve never eaten somewhere worth a two-hour wait and Al Forno is no different. But a one-hour wait? Now we?re talking. Al Forno is perfection in what it does and, flaws or not, I love it and think everyone should try.
not recommended – I came with a party of four during the Saturday evening before Memorial Day and was disappointed with all aspects of the dining experience. Although we had a reservation for 6:00 pm, we were not seated until 6:30. We were seated next to a window that was very sunny. The air was very dusty. The wine glasses had not been wiped down after being dried as they were very dusty as well. The sommalier, who was clearly new--his hands were shaky--spilled wine on a friend's shirt. The food was somewhat better than the decor and the service. The appetizers and dessert were excellent. My entree, rigatoni with veal bolognese, was average and no more special than any restaurant in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The worst part of the evening came at the end of the meal when the hostess asked two members of my party to leave because another party had been waiting a half hour for the table. This was extremely rude considering we waited a half hour and had wine spilled on one of us. I spoke with the hostess and told her that she had spoken rudely to my friends. She responded in a patronizing manner which gave me the sense that had I been older, i.e. a parent of a Brown graduate rather than a younger alumnus, that I would not have spoken to that way. I would not recommend returning to Al Forno under any circumstance.
Love it – We just got back from our first time at Al Forno. We will definitely go back. The staff is very proper and polite. The host pulled out my chair for me and help me put my coat on. Service was speedy and efficient. Water glasses never get low, crumbs swept off table. The food was very good. Must have the pizza margherita and any of the desserts. The seats and small tables could be more comftorable but not a big deal. Get there when they open to avoid a wait. We did and it worked very well. By the time they got busy we were leaving
Best pizza I do not think so – As a native Rhode Islander who has dined at Al Forno may times I have never understood the rave reviews this place receives. They may have invented the grilled pizza but my idea of a great grilled pizza is not overcooked to the point of a burnt crust along with a very hefty price tag. I have had better grilled pizzas elsewhere or at the very least no worst than Al Forno's for a much more reasonable price. The only reason I have gone back is to take out of state people who have heard the so called rave reviews and only to have them disappointed like myself. It is absolutely ridiculous with the amount of business this place does not to accept reservations. There is limited sitting in the bar areas so standing for 2-3 hours is not unusual. You can not even order an appetizer while waiting unless you are willing to eat standing up. I can not believe no one complains about the uncomfortable seating in the dining rooms. I feel as though I was back in 1st grade sitting at a desk that is too small and a hard wooden chair. Not to mention there is no table spacing at all. There are no intimate conversations here, your dining neighbors will definitely know what your conversation is about. I have had 2 occasions when the waitress could not serve the table on the side of mine without reaching between me and my dinner companion! To easily pay in excess of $150.00 for 2 to dine here there should be some atmosphere but unfortunately from the rude staff, to the horrible wait I could never go here again and never miss it.
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