Thursday, November 26, 2015

Il Fornaio in Coronado: Our Favorite Restaurant

Il Fornaio in Coronado - Dining doesn't get any better than this
Quick, without thinking too hard, what's your favorite restaurant? Can you name just one that stands out for you above all the rest? It's kind of like eating just one potato chip, right? It's not quite as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of things to take into consideration when choosing your favorite restaurant. The food tops the list, of course. But we all know there's more to it than that. It's the atmosphere. Service. It's the good feeling you get when you walk in and sit down. It's the fellow diners. It's the good memories attached to the place. Hey, for some it's the bathrooms, table cloths and silverware. Some folks were just born quirky.

A restaurant has to rate high on a combination of things before it can be deemed your favorite. For example, great food isn't so great if the service is lousy. And great service doesn't matter much if your pasta is under-cooked. And none of it matters if the place is so expensive you have to take out a second mortgage to leave a tip.

Then there's the view. Surroundings/aesthetics aren't everything. There are plenty of hole-in-the wall places with killer entrees that I like a lot. But when I want to celebrate my life and family and friends and dine in style, I like a nice view as much as the next guy. Come to think of it, I probably like a nice view even more than the next guy. 

So, after that unnecessarily long-winded set-up (my apologies), let me cut to the chase: I've chosen my favorite restaurant. In the entire world. And given all the givens, it was really not that difficult a decision after all. In fact, it was a no brainer.

Il Fornaio in Coronado, directly across the bay from Downtown San Diego, gets my highest possible grade. Il Fornaio, which means "the Baker" in Italian, isn't exactly a secret. It's a chain, yes, but each restaurant is designed specifically for the community in which it resides. The Coronado location is just special. Unique. It is my go-to place when I want to enjoy a great meal with the people I care about the most. Has been for many years.  

An award-winning eatery with an authentic and unique Italian/Mediteranean coastline dining experience, Il Fornaio is quite popular, but it's not pretentious or overpriced. It is still intimate and accessible and fun and never stuffy.

But the restaurant has rightly gotten its share of praise, including the 2007 Award of Distinction by the respected Wine Enthusiast magazine and the recently awarded “Marchio Q” by the Italian Chambers of Commerce in Italy.

Il Fornaio serves only Italian and Californian wines, and also offers its own brand of wine: a Chianti and a pinot grigio produced in Italy and a chardonnay produced in California’s Mendocino County. Both are excellent.

Il Fornaio's gifted Chef Giorgio Lo Verde brilliantly melds all the familiar Italian food staples with more exotic and lesser-known dishes that will totally taunt your taste buds and make you so happy you'll start speaking in alliterations like I just did.

And for gluten-free loyalists like me, this place is Nirvana. I can enjoy the full Italian Food Experience here with gluten-free pasta, the best in town. And believe me, I've tried as many gluten-free pasta dishes in San Diego as you could imagine. Top that gluten-free pasta with the Alfredo sauce and shrimp and a salad with the outstanding house dressing, which is a bit like Caeser but even better. That's my Italian dinner of choice, especially when I am with my family and friends. It just doesn't get any better. 

I've never had a bad meal here. And I've tried a variety of entrees. Try the Meatball, mushroom, and polenta dish. Specialties include homemade pastas, pizzas from an oak wood burning oven, wood-fired rotisserie and grilled meats, poultry and game; fresh salads and housemade soups, a wide variety of delicious desserts, and fresh bread made daily in the restaurant's own bakery. 

Another thing I love about Il Fornaio in Coronado is Festa Regionale, a winning idea that introduces diners to a variety of foods indigenous to various parts of Italy. Yep, Italian food is just like American food in that it's regional and diverse. It varies widely in each of the country's 20 regions.  Each month represents a different region of Italy. You can learn a bit of Italian history, geography and culture without having to take the 13-hour flight. It's been a popular feature at the restaurant for two decades. All you have to do is sign up for the restaurant's Passaporto program.

If the food wasn't so delicious, Il Fornaio's location would be its greatest asset. It's spectacular. Arguably the nicest location of any restaurant in America. Back when I visited New York a lot for my work, I was partial to the Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That was truly a view from Heaven, but of course sadly and tragically it no longer exists.

Il Fornaio overlooks San Diego Bay and offers the perfect view of San Diego's ever-improving Downtown skyline. Sitting in this restaurant looking out at the boats going by on the bay and seeing the sun glisten off the Downtown buildings just reminds that San Diego really is still America's Finest City.

Il Fornaio also has excellent service. The waiters -- seems there are more men than women serving here, not sure if that's an Italian thing or what -- are all personable, helpful and easy going. They all seem like they really want to be there. And here's a novelty for an Italian restaurant in San Diego: some of them are actually Italian!

And this is all of course a reflection of the enlightened management of Luca Allieri, who goes out of his way to make sure your dining experience is a memorable one. He's a class act, a pro who just knows how to make diners feel welcome. 

The setting at Il Fornaio is casual classy, with beautifully stained wood, floor-to-ceiling windows and white tablecloths and indoor as well as outdoor seating. And the atmosphere is pure joy. This is an an "event" kind of place without ever being too loud or annoying. People come here to celebrate life. Graduations. Marriages. Love. Friendship. Family. In fact, I'm going to be celebrating my life and my family at Il Fornaio in Coronado this Thanksgiving. 



Coronado's Ferry Landing: After we dine at Il Fornaio, we'll probably take a short walk along the water to the Coronado Ferry Landing, the charming village of shops, clothing stores, art galleries and more along the water. It's a pleasant way to walk off the food and top off the perfect evening spent at my favorite restaurant in the world. What more could you ask for?