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Il Fornaio Tasting Menu and Chef Interview

Posted Jun 10 2011 9:24am

Back in April when I went to San Diego for Easter, my family and I had dinner at this great Italian restaurant in Del Mar. Il Fornaio happens to be a chain, and I’ve actually been to the one in Reston, VA for a wine dinner for work a couple years ago. I remember the food was authentic Italian and really delicious so I was pretty excited about our dinner here in April. My brother and his fiance will be hosting their rehearsal dinner at the Il Fornaio in Del Mar so we got a private tasting of the dishes that will be served. The Chef prepared each dish himself just for us, and we were able to taste through the entire menu and decide on the dishes we wanted to have the night of the rehearsal dinner.

The restaurant is on a large covered and screened in deck that overlooks the water off in the distance. A perfect spot for to watch a sunset. We started the night off with a glass of White Wine, some Fresh Bread, the Fried Calamari, and an Anti- Pasta Plate.

Calamari is a funny appetizer. I feel like every restaurant has it on their menu, but only a handful of them do it right. I love when the calamari is soft and not rubbery or chewy, and when the batter is light and flaky with the right about of saltiness. Some restaurants fry their calamari to no end, and it has no flavor. At Il Fornaio they definitely do it right. And the anti pasta plate was wonderful sampling of delicious Italian treats. The plate included a little bit of everything. Prociutto De Parma , Melon, Artichokes, Olives, Salame, Fresh Bruchetta, and chunks of Parmesan Cheese.

After a small taste of all the appetizers we were ready to try some of the dishes Chef Carson had in mind for the rehearsal dinner. He brought one dish after another, and each one had such distinct flavors. We were trying to choose between meat, fish, and vegetarian, and let me tell you, the decision was not easy to make. Each dish was really different from the last. The flavors were fresh, and in my opinion, the food was prepared to perfection. We started with the Cappellacci di Manzo; Handmade ravioli stuffed with braised short rib and topped with a Sangiovese, mushroom cream sauce, shaved Parmesan, and truffle oil.

Fresh home-made pasta filled with mouth watering, tender braised short rib. The mushroom cream sauce was subtle and added an earthiness to the dish. We were definitely blown away from the beginning.

Next up was the Napoleone di Tonno, Caponata e Melanzane; Seared Ahi Tuna Stack with breaded eggplant and Sicilian Caponata upon a bed of arugula, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and peperoncino sauce

Not only was this a beautiful presentation with such vivid and contrasting colors, which I love in dishes, but the flavors were so unique. The tuna was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and it paired so well with the eggplant and arugula. This dish, although large in size, was light, refreshing, and definitely one of my favorites. It was savory and satisfying, but not too heavy.

The Chef brought out the third dish, which was a vegetarian dish. Paccheri alle Melanzane;Wide pasta tubes with diced eggplant, chopped tomatoes, and smoked mozzarella

My family has been a meat and potatoes type of family for as long as I can remember. The males always need some sort of protein so they were a little skeptical about this dish. But one taste and they had changed their minds. Home made pasta with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, eggplant, and a hint of smokiness from the cheese. It was absolutely wonderful. It reminded me of something I would get in Italy and definitely not something from a chain restaurant. This dish was so good that everyone agreed it had to be on the menu for the rehearsal dinner.

And Chef Carson didn’t stop there. He brought out two more dishes that weren’t even on our tasting menu just to have us try. One was a Steak (I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember the exact cut of meat this was)topped with Mushrooms in a Cream sauce, and complimented with Sauteed Spinach, and Mashed Potatoes.

Although extremely delicious in every aspect we were still drooling over the first three dishes. I loved the mushrooms in cream sauce on the meat, and the meat was again cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was the type of meat that cut easily and melted in your mouth. Definitely a delicious dish, but I still had my heart set on the first three.

And last but not least, something a little lighter, and a bit more refreshing. Ravioli with Pear and Asparagus in a Light Cream Sauce Topped with Toasted Walnuts. We were not quite sure how this would taste, and I’m not sure it won over my family, but I definitely enjoyed it.

I absolutely loved the refreshing crisp pieces of asparagus with the flavor of the sweet pear all wrapped together in home made ravioli topped with a very light cream sauce and some toasted walnuts. It was a unique flavor that I’ve never had before, but definitely woke up my taste buds. A perfect ending to the meal for me since I’m not a huge fan of desserts, and this dish had just the right amount of sweetness to let my stomach leave happy.

I was very impressed by the food that Chef Carson prepared for us, and after talking it over with the bride and groom to be we came up with our top choices. But you’ll just have to wait until November to find out what they are! Because I was so inspired and impressed I asked Chef Carson if he would let me interview him to find out a little about his background and his inspiration behind these dishes. So here is it…in all of it’s unedited Droid phone glory:

Our dinner at Il Fornaio was such a great experience. The waitstaff was attentive, the atmosphere was lovely, and of course the food was much better than I ever imagined. I was very please with our dinner there, and we are looking forward to hosting the rehearsal dinner there in November!

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