I was blessed to have my sister and her husband in town for the entire Thanksgiving weekend. (They live 6 hours west of me). My husband and I rarely get to take them out for a nice dinner, so we were really looking forward to giving them the Al Forno experience. This is one of the best restaurants in Providence. The kind of place where the service is snotty, so you expect something good in return. We walked in, the Friday after Thanksgiving, somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00. I was worried we’d have a long wait because they do not take reservations–and do not even dare to ask if they do.
We waited at the hostess desk on the first floor. A woman comes in and says “How may I help you?” like we could be there to buy a new car, gift certificates, anything besides a table for four. I look at her confused and say “Table for four?” She immediately gets on a phone and calls to see if there are any tables. I’m thinking, “shouldn’t the HOSTESS know if they are any tables?” She says to the person on the phone, “10 minutes? 15?” She hangs up and says it will be about 15 minutes and we say “great.” She takes us upstairs to the bar where we order drinks. The drinks are fresh and homemade. The bartender cuts fresh fruit for every drink; no fruit bar tray at this joint. We’ve barely had a sip and they bring us to our table.
I’m so excited about bringing my sister and her hubby to this place, I can’t contain myself. I tell them we must order the homemade fruit tart. At Al Forno’s you order dessert with your meal as they bake them fresh during your meal. Brilliant! We start with a bottle of red wine, once it’s decided that I am the only seafood dish at the table. Jeff has a long conversation with the server about the wine choices, most of which are in Italian.
For appetizers we order their famous beets and frites, sauteed beets with fresh thin fries on top and crispy cod cakes with smashed avocado. I hate beets with a passion, but know that the other members of my party love them. We are pleased with our appetizers.
For dinner, we ordered the following:
Wood-Grilled George’s Bank Scallops: sauted mushrooms, creamed parsnips, roasted broccoli
Wood-Grilled Leg of Lamb with Fresh Rosemary: roasted harissa spiced butternut squash and broccoli rabe
Grilled and Braised Beef Short Ribs: Al Forno mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, butternut squash, celery root, parsnips, and Brussels Sprouts
And Jeff ordered the dirty steak. They throw a steak on the wood fire, literally.
And because we needed to order dessert when we ordered the meal, I ordered the Pear Walnut tart, Hannah ordered the Warm Chocolate-Filled Crepes with Crème Anglaise (hot fudge sauce, fresh whipped cream), and Dana ordered the Lemon Granita.
And all this looks quite nice, except that it wasn’t quite the way it was advertised. My scallops were cooked perfectly, but the parsnips were not creamed, they were chopped in tiny cubes and served with OYSTER mushrooms, long, stringy oysters mushrooms which I pulled to the side because the texture did not go with the dish at all. Dana’s grilled and braised beef short rips appeared to be a top roast or some kind of pot roast. Not one little rib to be seen. Hannah’s lamb was a little gamey, according to her, and Jeff seemed happy with his dirty steak.
However, here is the kicker. After our meals were delivered by the runners, we had to flag down the busser, who was primarily serving water and ask her to bring us some pepper. There was no salt and pepper on the table. She came over with fresh ground pepper and proceeded to grind it in one spot. The server NEVER came back to check on us or ask us how everything was. By the time he did come back, we were done our dinner AND our wine. He looked at me and said, “do you want another glass of wine?” It took everything in my soul to prevent myself from saying “where the fuck have you been?” If he had come back when he was supposed to, I can guarantee we would have ordered another bottle for the table. Jeff was also upset that Hannah’s setting was not cleaned up between the appetizer and dessert.
The dessert arrived. Two of them. The crepes and the lemon cake. I told him we were missing the pear tart and he looked like a deer in the headlights. He hadn’t ordered it. I couldn’t fucking believe it. Excuse my language, but that’s how I felt. And to try to make up for it, they apologized profusely and asked us if we wanted some other dessert. Did we want some freshly baked cookies or they could bake us a another tart, but it would take 20 minutes. No! I was excited about the freshly baked tart jerks!
We had some coffees and went on our way, saddened by what should have been a spot-on experience. I don’t know if it is my luck or a shift in the culinary city of Providence because we had a similar experience at Capriccio’s last spring. Poor and shitty service. And we went back and forth about going to Gracies instead of Al Forno’s that night. Next time we will take them to Gracie’s.