Restaurant Review: Forno Bistro

Posted by Tegan O'Neill

The flames rising out of the brick oven at the back of the Forno Bistro caught my eye before anything else, and the image of heat was seared into my brain. Those in charge have put thought into creating a sense of warmth that goes beyond the wood-fired pizza. Although dark and a bit cluttered, the setting strikes a comfortable balance between ornate and cozy. Mammoth curly-q sculptures meant to mimic the tendrils of a fire's flame adorn the ceilings. Nearly everything in sight is on the warm side of the color continuum. It does not feel cavernous but it certainly feels far from small and intimate. It is more of a place for families and groups to congregate.

It is always a plus when bread is served warm. Unfortunately, this bread's warmth was its only positive attribute. There is not much to say about a plain piece of white bread without dimension. It did serve as a suitable canvas for the paint of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, though.

Right off the bat, I could tell the rhythm of the waitstaff was off. Our plates of food were brought to the table as if the meal was a road race, and our dishes were cleared before we even finished chewing our last bites. I felt as though we were being rushed through the meal, and our permission to enjoy it leisurely whisked away along with the bread basket. The overly attentive army in charge of our table was stifling. I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy the food, which was good enough to merit savoring.

For example, I would have loved to spend more time cherishing the flavor burst that the Bruschetta Classica delivered. If only I could have dragged out the seconds of that first shock of basil and the slow wave of garlic that followed. I was thoroughly impressed by the flavor packed into the playground of diced tomatoes that topped off the slabs of toasted bread. Ideally, the components of bruschetta are enjoyed simultaneously, but because the bread was too tough to be bitten into without some pulling and tugging, the tomatoes toppled off the bread leaving it to stand alone,. The scrumptious tomatoes left on the plate turned into a reward for struggling through the bread. And what better reward could there be than a simple m??lange of garlic, basil and tomato? The medley tastes like eating a summer garden.

The Mista Insalata was another appetizer that had its flaws but, nevertheless, could be forgiven. All that made up this salad were mixed greens, tomatoes and a thin, but large, slice of Grana Padano. The salad was slick with a white balsamic vinaigrette that was too heavy on the oil and not liberal enough on the balsamic. The presentation of the antipasti was beautiful in its simplicity. The slice of cheese draped over the greens was almost poetic. As it is a fairly mild cheese, the Grana Padano did not steal the show from the green and red parts of the salad. It added a slight richness to an otherwise unpretentious plate of humble ingredients.

Before we dug into the main course, we took our ever-attentive waiter up on his offer for freshly shaved cheese. What ensued was more than a shaving of cheese - it was a blizzard. It seemed as if time were frozen while white flakes resembling snow showered down from the grater above.

This glorious pile of cheese melted into the dish of Fusili con Broccoletti like snow on a warm spring day, enhancing an already interesting blend of foodstuffs. Springy spirals of Fusili pasta, house-made sausage, tuscan beans, broccoli pesto and fennel seeds made for a light but filling dish of pasta. Broccoli came out on top as the dominant flavor. That it was mashed made for a strange pesto. It was odd that the sauce was thick and mushy rather than smooth. Whole fennel seeds mingled with the clean taste of broccoli, which added an aromatic flare. Surprisingly, the sausage offered the least flavor, and, when paired with the hearty white beans, the sausage seemed an unnecessary additional source of protein. When thrown together and cooked, the beans, sausage and pasta all acquired a similar soft consistency, which, albeit pleasant enough, is not very remarkable. Beware of the large chunks of garlic buried within - unless, of course, you like whole cloves, in which case by all means plunge your fork in to the dish without abandon.

Forno's pizza has very soft, bread-like dough, trace amounts of grease on the bottom of the pie and a pillowy texture throughout, even when you get to the pizza bone. Neither the cheese nor the sauce speak loudly on Forno's Pizza Pomodoro e Rughetta. A thin layer of cheese makes it a dainty pizza. No strings attached here. The layer of sauce is even finer than the cheese. It seems to be used just for color effect. The flavors are muted, but it is a pleasing pie nonetheless. Spicy tendrils of arugula add some zing, but since they do not rip easily, it is difficult to avoid slurping up all of the arugula in the first bite, thus, leaving the remainder of the slice bare.

I have yet to be convinced that cannoli is really as good as it is cracked up to be. This particularly cannoli did nothing to persuade me of the classic Italian dessert's merits. Maybe if the ricotta in this cannoli had not been so grainy and had been a little sweeter and a bit smoother, it would have been good. I wish that the whipped cream sitting underneath the cannoli had been used for the filling. It was thick enough to have done the job and more delectable than its distant dairy cousin ricotta. Tasty footprints of nutmeg, chocolate and powdered sugar left their tracks around the plate and in the cannoli.

The affogato kills two birds with one stone - sweet merges with wham-bam caffeine to form an alliance that seals the meal. The rich whipped cream, hot espresso, cold gelato and gloriously goopy caramel taste like a truly decadent treat. The gelato was too icy to be enjoyable but everything else was delicious, especially the caramel...if only it had been ladled on in gobs.

There is room for improvement at Forno Bistro, but I can understand why Forno is a much loved classic on the Saratoga dining scene. The restaurant has heart and seems to genuinely care about customer satisfaction, which is a redeeming trait important enough to make up for the small bobbles made along the way. 

To read more of Tegan O'Neills outings visit her blog

Letter: Classic Advice for a Bacchanal (Updated)

Editorial: Appreciating religion at a secular college