Italian Restaurant & Bakery
520 Cowper Ave., Palo Alto
It's a pleasure to find a white-tablecloth restaurant that will gracefully accommodate children. Il Fornaio ("The Baker") is that kind of place.
Adults will enjoy the changing regional menus, the fresh pasta, and the excellent bread. (You can see the wood-burning oven from your table.) The children's menu goes beyond the usual fried items, and the paper menu offered with crayons has interesting puzzles, some Italian history, and a brief Italian-language lesson. ("Posso avere dessert, prego?" means "May I have dessert, please?")
Il Fornaio is a part of a NASDAQ-traded company that operates 23 full-service restaurants across the country, as well as several bakeries and catering companies. I generally try to avoid chain restaurants, but Il Foranio doesn't look -- or taste -- like just another outpost of brand X.
For the next few weeks, Il Fornaio's menu highlights Sicilian cuisine.
To start, I had a refreshing insalata di bietole ($7.75), which the menu described as "organic red and gold beets with red wine vinegar, wild arugula, toasted walnuts and Asiago cheese, lemon-olive oil dressing."
Whenever I see house-made gnocchi on a menu, I order it. This is not something I would attempt to make on my own, and packaged varieties always are lacking. Il Fornaio's gnocchi alla Sorrentina ($13.95), served with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, did not disappoint. The little potato dumplings practically melted in my mouth.
Other menu items I would like to try are the cappellacci di zucca ($15.95), ravioli filled with butternut squash and walnuts, sauced with tomato, brown butter, parmesan and crispy sage; the fiadoni di Pietro ($17.50), spinach ravioli filled with salmon and whitefish, topped with shrimp and fresh asparagus in a saffron sauce; and braciola di maiale ($19.95), a center-cut pork chop stuffed with asparagus, leeks, roasted garlic and smoked mozzarella, in a lemon and Trebbiano wine sauce.
Pizza from the wood-burning oven was crispy and tasty. Even the chicken tenders on the children's menu were worth taking home for leftovers.
Regretfully, I'd enjoyed too much of the bread basket to sample the dolci, which included crema al doppio gusto (fennel-infused custard with chocolate mousse and caramelized sugar topping) and crespelle con vaniglia (crepes filled with apples and grappa-infused pastry cream, vanilla gelato and caramel sauce).