I’m a restaurant groupie. Just one restaurant though—an indulgence far enough away from my house that I don’t go that often, so I feel it’s totally acceptable. In my boyfriend I have found a willing co-conspirator who loves food, especially this restaurant’s food, as much as I do, so I’m fortunate to have gone twice in the past couple of months. We have considered the fact that we may need to get second jobs to maintain the habit. We are OK with that.
Al Forno in Providence, the object of our affection, is worth the wait. And there’s always a wait. Those in-the-know are savvy enough to plan dinner around the very early opening hour of 4 p.m. on Saturdays. One does what one must to enjoy the bounty, because the bounty is that good. Even if it requires languishing on a small bench near the bathrooms for nearly two hours. Really, we didn’t mind.
In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a spiritual experience of eating pizza at a little place in Naples. Readers were all in a flutter when the book came out, descending on the pizza shop en masse. I thought about a journey myself. Good pizza is hard to find. But pizza at Al Forno is a near-religious experience, so much so that another friend and I, having experienced the pizza years ago, were appalled when a couple at a neighboring table left half the pizza on their plate and declined to bring it home. I saw my friend eyeing the pizza; had one of us been braver, we might have enjoyed an extra couple of slices. Today, I would have no shame.
After inhaling the incredible pizza that defied its simplicity (sauce, two cheeses, olive oil, and scallions), I forced myself to lay off the bread gnocchi so I could have some for the next day. I’ve heard good gnocchi described as pillows before, but these handmade gnocchi were made of the finest, highest quality down, perhaps from ducks raised exclusively for that purpose. The spicy tomato and sausage sauce blanketed them perfectly.
For dessert, a record of sorts was set. I ordered something that was not chocolate. Thanks to our last visit there, I discovered that while I thought I didn’t like pears, I was clearly wrong. The pear appetizer that was dressed in a citrusy vinaigrette convinced me that yes, this time maybe the pear and walnut crisp tart for two would be a wise choice. Indeed, it was. The pear slices were soft and flavorful and the tart crust, crispy and omnipresent, because really, it’s all about the bready part.
I tried to recall a better meal, but we both agreed: best meal ever. Except for maybe the last time we were there. And the next time we go. And the time after that.