Monday, January 17, 2011

FoodTrek: Friuli, You Had Me at "Buon Giorno"

My tastebuds went on a tour of Italy recently, without even leaving the state! I had the opportunity to visit Il Fornaio in downtown Seattle to sample one of their special regionally-themed Festa Regionale dinners that they will be holding periodically throughout the year. This particular dinner was inspired by Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a region of Italy in the northeastern corner of its "boot," featuring hearty, comforting foods that were perfect for cutting the chill of a wintery January.

Fresh pasta was my favorite at Il Fornaio - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Il Fornaio has been in Seattle since 1998, as both a restaurant and bakery, and its origins as a bakery dates back as far as the early 1970s in Italy before it made its way to the States in the early 80's as artisanal baked items. Now it's known for being a family of restaurants as much as for its breads and pastries, and their Festa Regionale dinner series seeks to bring its American patrons with them, back to its Italian roots, introducing dishes that incorporate familiar flavors with regional ingredients and preparation. Special dinners like these are especially nice to take advantage of, as they offer unique items not always offered on their standard menu, and best of all, the tasting menu allows you to enjoy multiple things, versus committing to a single entree. The greatest enjoyment of being at a restaurant is having a menu full of choices before you, so why not take advantage of special small-portion, multi-course menus like this and have a bit of everything?

Chef Franz Junga presenting the many dishes from Taste of Friuli dinner - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Chef Franz Junga was on-hand to introduce the menu and answer questions about the dishes prepared. Wines for the Taste of Friuli menu were paired with each course, representing different vintages from the region. The wines were nicely paired with each selection from the tasting menu, which included a starter of zuppa di fagioli e bietole, a creamy cannellini bean soup with winter vegetables, with an insalata di pere al formaggio, a pear salad with mixed greens, gorgonzola and pecans. This was followed by a pasta course of ravioli d'anatra agli asparagi, ravioli filled with shreds of duck and prosciutto, covered in a creamy sauce with asparagus, and gnocchi alla Friulana, dumplings made from potato tossed in a creamy tomato sauce with sausage, mushrooms and onions. This was followed up by gamberoni alla busara con spaghetti, a giant prawn seasoned and seared, served with a rich caper, garlic and brandy sauce over pasta, and filetto di branzino alla greca, a grilled fillet of wild seabass in a tart tomato sauce with olives and capers, and sauteed spinach. The dessert was tortino di mele con gelato al rum, a crisp apple tart full of walnuts, raisins and pine nuts, and a creamy scoop of rum raisin gelato.

Sweet finish to the meal and don't forget to try their lemon olive oil - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Yes, even for a tasting menu of smaller portions, it's quite a bit of food, but I think that's the way to really savor the restaurant experience. The multiple courses give you time to really get to know each dish and savor each bite. All the items reflected the comfort of cold-weather foods, with their hearty sauces and strong flavors. The pasta course was my favorite, as they make their pasta sheets and gnocchi fresh in their kitchen, and you can taste the difference. Very tender and delicate, especially the ravioli, as they used a creamy sauce that simply dressed the little parcels without overwhelming it. The savory filling of duck and prosciutto were a great combination; rich, salty flavor with a creamy, slow-cooked consistency. Gnocchi is a big favorite of mine; I have a hard time making it right at home without them turning into super bouncy-balls of rubber, and the gnocchi served had the pillowy-light, almost sponge-like texture of  how these Italian potato dough dumplings should be. I liked that these dishes felt like the things people in the Friuli region would eat; nothing overdone, no squeeze bottles of fussy sauces or cages of spun sugar, simply what's available and what the people enjoy.

The January tasting menu has sadly ended as of the 16th, but they've chosen 11 more regions to showcase thru December -- their site has the listings and dates. And for those passing by the downtown Seattle Il Fornaio after work, check out their happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30; it's one of the best-known spots as they offer complimentary antipasti and pizza! Don't forget to try their lemon-infused olive oil -- perfect for dipping some of their bakery bread in, or a drizzle over a salad.

A Wasabi Mille Grazie to Chef Junga and the team at Il Fornaio for putting on such a beautiful dinner. Looking forward to touring other regions throughout the year!

Bookmark and Share

1 comment:

  1. Wow, looks good! I'm gonna have to check that out ASAP.


Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)