The Best of Providence – Al Forno Restaurant

I have never been to Rhode Island. There were only three things I knew about the state. It was the smallest state in America, Johnson and Wales, one of the top culinary schools existed there and most importantly it was the home of Al Forno, an internationally acclaimed Italian restaurant.

I could only dream of what it would be like from the stories of what my brother would tell me. Therefore, Al Forno was near the top of my list of restaurants of “Where to Go Next?” No matter how many times I was in Boston and knowing it was just over an hour drive away, there always seem to be a reason for not going – we don’t have a car, we will wait next time so more people can go, the restaurant doesn’t open on Sundays or Mondays or the most common was we are not here long enough. For the last five trips to Boston, these were the classic excuses. Not this time.

Al Forno Restaurant

Al Forno has put Providence on the map for places to visit. For the last 28 years, chef-owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon have attracted locals, visitors and celebrities to their upscale casual restaurant. The restaurant as well as Johanne and George have received a number of awards. Patricia Wells wrote an article in The International Herald Tribune and selected Al Forno as the “Number One” in the world for Casual Dining. Food and Wine named Johanne and George as two of the Ten Best Chefs in America. Today the kitchen is run by renowned head chef David Reynoso (The Butcher Shop by Barbara Lynch) and who was 2006 Boston’s Rising Star Chef.

July’s edition of Bon Appétit Magazine interviews writer David Sedaris, author of “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” He states Al Forno was his most memorable meal.

Food: Simple Italian comfort food. Fresh seasonal ingredients reflect New England’s local farms and fresh seafood. A great wine list features over 250 wines. The grilled pizza cooked over the hardwood charcoal fire is by far the best I have ever tasted. Try the Clams Al Forno as a starter. The spicy tomato based sauce is just wonderful with a piece of bread. One of the best hand-made pastas, a lobster ravioli with a cream sauce is one of the night’s special. The Dirty Steak cooked medium rare is another excellent choice and perhaps one of the best steaks you can find. This boneless and juicy ribeye is cooked over the kitchen’s charcoal grill giving it a distinct smoky flavor. Desserts are made-to-order and require you to place your order at the beginning of the meal. The Grande Cookie Finale made for two is a rendition on classic cookies just to die for. That night’s special was an Apricot Tarte Tartin which was magnificent.

“Their pizza is the best in the U.S.A.” – Billy Joel

“At last, Johanne Killeen and George Germon from the great Al Forno Restaurant in Providence reveal the mysterious secrets of their kitchen! The feast continues.” – Danny De Vito and Rhea Perlman.

Atmosphere: Casual, quiet and relaxing. Staff is friendly and welcoming. The restaurant is divided into various rooms including a bar area, a second floor and outdoor patio seating which most resembles a secret garden. It’s a great place for a romantic date.

Service: Unexpected style of service for such a high caliber restaurant. Service is informal and at times too laid-back, but this type of service seems to work at Al Forno. Perhaps, it is seen as a get-a-way dining place without a need for corporate attire and special service. Therefore, the feeling is more laid-back like being at your own home with no extra service touches. An interesting selection of front of the house staff include several young, but friendly high school students obviously too young to drink or recommend wine. Witnessing other tables from afar, there were signs of communication breakdowns between the staff – hesitation in food delivery either too early or too late and table confusion. However, tables were bussed quickly for eagerly waiting customers in line. Overall, the service was satisfactory.

Price: Average check of $50-$60 including a drink, tax and tip. Check average may be lower depending on the type of main course chosen. Pastas are affordably priced.

With a couple minor kinks in service to iron out, Al Forno will shine. A restaurant that has been in business since 1980 is obviously doing something right. Exceptional food and wine with an incredible outdoor garden patio. Seating is taken on a first come first basis, so go early prior to opening, it’s definitely worth the trip.

The word is out that the Al Forno team will soon open a new concept restaurant Tini, named after its 450 sq. ft. space at 200 Washington St.

Excited? I know I am. It’s time to plan another trip.

Al Forno, 577 South Main Street, Providence, RI 02973, 401-273-9760

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