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Dining out: What's not to like about Al Forno's?

Published: Thursday, Nov. 11 2010 5:54 p.m. MST

Despite the fact that I am sorry every year to see the long, bright days of summer dwindle away, this time of year has its compensations.

It's college football season. It's time to break out my favorite black boots and my down vest. It's time to be dazzled daily by the ever-changing mosaic of fall leaves on our streets and mountains.

And it's the season for comfort food. At home, I make macaroni-and-cheese casserole and nearly infinite varieties of soup, stew and chili.

Dining out, I find myself at places like Al Forno's, inhaling milky-sharp solace as a hot ramekin of just-baked spinach and cheese cannelloni is placed carefully before me.

Al Forno's, a downtown fixture with an appealingly updated, modern-but-comfortable dining room and a classic American-Italian menu, has plenty of year-round appeal on the menu, from salads to fresh, light pasta dishes. But a chilly day is a particularly fine time to snuggle into one of this eatery's bronze-upholstered booths and bask in good service and better food.

When my husband, son and I had lunch there on a recent weekday, I was impressed with both the diversity and competence of the wait staff. A mature and thoroughly charming lady was our server, but we also had help from a youthful male server, and the two shared an obvious enthusiasm for their restaurant's menu. I like to see that in a staff.

We started with the bruschetta al pesto, an Al Forno's twist on classic bruschetta with two fat little crusty rolls split, covered with pesto, artichoke hearts, mozzarella and asiago and broiled golden brown. They were like piquant little thick-crust pizzas.

For our little boy, we ordered a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Though there's a children's menu in the evening, there isn't one at lunch, so we were prepared to take home leftovers. We got some, too, but not as much as I had expected, thanks to the dish's tangy, earthy sauce and three darkly browned, beefy and gently seasoned meatballs.

My husband, going right along with my own comfort-food yearnings, had the lasagna, a generously cut slab classically seasoned and presented. I had a bite, enjoyed it and thought about having another a few minutes later, only to see his plate empty.

I had the aforementioned cannelloni, prepared with such exquisite restraint that a delicate milky sweetness sang through its blend of salty cheeses and firm-textured just-bitter spinach.

Nobody but me had dessert, but (of course) I could not resist trying Al Forno's tiramisu, a classic and superior presentation prepared in-house with a surprising note of cinnamon in the cocoa dusted over its top.

Lunch: Appetizers $6-$10.95, soup $5, salad $5.25-$8.95, entrées $8.95-$11.95, desserts $2-$2.99. Dinner: appetizers $2.50-$14.95, soup $5.25, salad $5.25-$9.25, early-bird specials $12.95, pasta and entrées $12.75-$17.95, children's dishes $3.50-$3.95, dessert $4.25-$6.95.

If you go:

Al Forno's

Rating: ★★★

Where: 239 S. 500 East

Hours: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 5-10:30 p.m.; closed Sunday

Phone: 801-359-6040

Wheelchair access: Narrow but accessible

Also: Early-bird specials available 5-6:30 p.m.

Web: saltlakecityrestaurants.org/alfornos.htm

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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