By Bernie Whitmore
We’re all familiar with the well-worn script played out across America all too often: a McDonalds opens in a quaint little town and with its seemingly inescapable greasy magnetism soon becomes THE place to eat out. But then the townspeople awaken from this French-fry induced delirium, decide they’ve tired of McEverything, and stop purchasing happy meals for the grandkids and Cholesterol Burgers for themselves. And what happens? McDonalds gets replaced by an Italian restaurant that people love.
Is this a tribute to the people of West Boylston? Or to the enduring popularity of Italian cuisine and the talent of the savvy individuals who run Il Forno? It’s worth a visit to find out, and visit we did.
West Boylston’s Il Forno is actually one of four locations, and a faithful diner at the table next to me recited them all when I asked Kate, our waitress, to show me the map emblazoned on the back of her t-shirt. I had never visited the golden arched dining establishment that came before, but there’s not a trace of Ronald remaining. The fast-food karma has, thankfully, vanished. Il Forno invites guests to bring their own bottle of wine to compliment the traditional Italian dinners, allowing us to add a personal touch to our meal.
We started our meal with Fried Calamari served with Fra Diavolo sauce. The Fra Diavolo seemed to be Il Forno’s marinara sprinkled generously with red pepper flakes. This was a classic example of simple elegance ~ fresh and devilishly spicy without getting downright satanic. They provide a generous amount or sauce, so we asked Kate for bread to slather up the leftovers. She brought a basket of buttery-soft fresh-baked garlic bread.
And the calamari itself… It was fresh and deep-fried to a light golden crisp in oil that hadn’t been overworked, so the dish was free of oily or burnt flavors. The portion of rings and tentacles was just enough for sharing but not excessive ~ which was fortunate because the entrees were huge.
Unlike most restaurants, at Il Forno salad is included with most entrées. Romaine lettuce, chopped red cabbage and red onion slices were tossed with a few olives and a cherry tomato and served in chilled glass dishes. Crunchy-freshness prevailed. Salad dressings are an Il Forno specialty, homemade and decanted into big wine bottles on each table. I chose creamy Italian and dressed my own salad. Perfect for the salad-lover who has everything, gift baskets of personal-sized dressings are offered for sale on the way out.
For my main course, I heeded Kate’s enthusiastic advice and ordered the Seafood Combo Francese. The seafood came in twos, pairs of jumbo shrimp, sea scallops and hefty haddock filets. They were lightly coated in egg batter, quickly dipped in the deep fry, then sautéed with lemon, butter and white wine. Into the sauté pan had gone a toss of chopped tomatoes, sliced Porto Bella mushrooms, and snow pea pods ~ perfect for rounding out flavor, color and texture.
From the first bite of tomato, the richness of the sauce was undeniable. The seafood was fresh and not overcooked; the egg batter had absorbed the lemony-light butter sauce which coated through a deep bed of linguine noodles. This meal was so huge I could barely finish half of it… Kate was happy to box up the remainder for take-home while simultaneously lavishing praise upon my friend for finishing his Veal Piccata Scaloppini. This recipe has gone so wrong in so many kitchens, but Il Forno nailed it perfectly ~ a sauté of lemon, butter, white wine and capers bathed five cutlets of tender veal. Each ingredient is critical and must be, as they were in this preparation, in perfect flavor-balance.
Hats off to you, West Boylston, you did what any common-sense town should do ~ you traded lackluster fast-food for superior homemade cuisine served in a relaxed setting. Kudos to you, and kudos to Il Forno.
65 W Boylston St, West Boylston,
508-835-3700 | www.il-forno.com/WestBoylston