McALLEN – Welcome to our first installment of our new column Dishin' It.
With this space we hope to provide some insight to the vast array of eateries, restaurants and bars.
For our first assignment we decided to visit a fairly new restaurant that has quickly become one of our favorites. Il Forno a Legna is an authentic Italian restaurant that opened its doors less than a year ago. Two weeks ago they started their Mimosa Matinee where every Saturday from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. they offer half-off their house wines, selected beers and appetizers, and $4 mimosas. This is a smart move on part of the restaurant management to cure the afternoon slump. Plus, who doesn’t like partaking in afternoon drinking activities?
Gaby: Upon arrival I was welcomed by a friendly hostess and was quickly sat down at a table by a window that faced a parking lot. There really wasn’t much of a view.
Trisha: There really isn’t much of a view any where you sit.
Gaby: However, inside the restaurant is very cozy.
Trisha: Inviting and warm.
Gaby: There weren’t that many people during the time we arrived (around 5 p.m.). It was probably us and another 10 people. Well, when I arrived, unlike Trisha who arrived almost 20 minutes late.
Trisha: Yes, running late like the rabbit, “I am late, I am late.”
Gaby: As I waited for Trisha, I decided it was best to start researching Il Forno’s mimosas. When asking our bartender about their mimosa special, he was more than eager to show me the menu. Beyond having your typical orange juice and champagne, Il Forno took the time to develop a menu of various concoctions. The guava mimosa caught my eye because I couldn’t recall if I have ever eaten a guava in my life, let alone have one in a drink. To my dislike however, the mimosa was too sweet for my taste and while the flavor of guava is unknown to me, the only true taste I could decipher was that of the alcohol. The drink’s presentation was in an elegant glass accompanied by two plump blueberries.
Did I also mention that I ordered the eggplant appetizer?
Trisha: Not liking any form of sweet drinks myself, I went straight for the house chianti. Although this time around they did have a different brand than the norm, Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico 2014, you can never go wrong with their options. On any other day, I would have opted for beer, but being that we were in an Italian setting, being a fan of wine and the fact that we were going to have some Italian appetizers, I chose the wine. I could also say I was just watching my sugar intake. It’s all about the grapes and antioxidants, you know!
Gaby: Upon seeing Trisha’s example of ordering wine, I downed the leftover of my guava mimosa and proceeded to order the house cabernet. In less that two minutes our server brought out our drinks along with the house bread basket. This isn’t your typical bread basket. Il Forno bakes their bread on a daily basis. It is like a warm, soft, buttery cloud beautifully complemented by their house-made olive oil which is infused with a variety of herbs and spices.
The infusion of red peppers that really makes this dish stand out. Be warned; the olive oil will be spicy towards the end of your bite.
By this point my initial eggplant had been consumed. We decided to take advantage of the appetizer deal, and we got a bit loco as they say. We ended up ordering Antipasto Crudo, Calamari Fritti and Pasticcio di Melanzane (yes, believe it or not, we ordered another eggplant).
Trisha: Yes, we did have another eggplant! It’s just so good. It’s made up of slices of eggplant, layers of prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato sauce and baked to perfection. The cherry on top of this crazy sundae was our server grating fresh parmesan over our dish as it was set on our table.
The Antipasto Crudo was described as a board with various meets, cheeses and seasonal fruits. Well, supposed seasonal fruits, which we did comment on to the manager.
We’ve been to Il Forno a number of times, and at each of our visits we have had thinly sliced Granny Smith Apples. Don’t get me wrong, they are delicious and they had a very beautiful presentation. But where are the seasonal fruits? Dates? Kiwi? Passion Fruit? Pomegranate?
The manager was actually very glad that we spoke up in regards to this small detail. She has been urging for seasonal fruits to be paired with the dish. We had given her some ammunition. The standout star from the whole board however was the buffalo mozzarella brought in from a small farm in New York.
Gaby: The Calamari Fritti had a very unique batter on it; almost as if it was made with Tempura, but flash fried. The batter permitted us to taste the true taste of the calamari and the white wine used to flavor it. It wasn’t heavy at all which can be a pro and a con, because your brain doesn’t know when to stop eating. It was accompanied by spicy, pickled peppers and marinara sauce.
Trisha: At 10 minutes before 6 p.m. we noticed that our time was almost up. We hailed over our lovely and gracious server and asked if (INSIDER TIP) we could pre-order a couple of glasses of wine before six o’clock. Without any hesitation he agreed, so both Gaby and I made sure to order two more glasses of wine.
Gaby: Each! Let’s be clear. Two more glasses each! Our server was a delight. He was very humorous, light-hearted, and a joy to have.
Trisha: Also attentive. I mean to the point that as soon as he saw that our glasses were almost empty, he was already running over to pour a new glass of wine. You cannot beat that kind of service!
Gaby: He read our thoughts!
Trisha: Or he noticed something else about us!
Gaby: Another (INSIDER TIP): If you are looking for a unique gift or look forward to becoming the superstar of your very own hosted Italian dinner, Il Forno bottles its amazing, red pepper olive oil. Each bottle is $11.99 and has a shelf life of one year.
Once our waiter noticed that we had had enough, he kindly offered to box our remaining dishes. I took one for the team and volunteered as tribute to take the leftovers home. This unfortunately made our wine glasses look lonely at the table.
Trisha: We couldn’t just drink our wine alone; we needed something to pair it with. There was no bread left, and our food was nowhere in sight. So we really did not have any other option than to try the suggested, newly added Torta Cioccolato Espresso. It is basically Tiramisu with chocolate cake, drizzled with Bailey’s Irish Cream and almond shavings.
Gaby: I believe that cake was gone in about 90 seconds! Even though I helped to devour it, my only issue with the dessert was that it was not cold. Normally, at the end of dinner you have a piping cup of hot coffee paired with a nice cold dessert. But other than this minute detail our last dish was a perfect closing to an amazing meal.
Our overall impressions: Yes, we would definitely go back and we definitely recommend it. It’s an amazing deal for a lazy Saturday afternoon from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. It is a great place to go lounge, relax and spend a delightful time with friends. We were completely astounded when we received our tickets at how little we spent in feasting like kings.
Gaby Jones and Trisha Watts work hand-in-hand with the service industry. Jones is in charge of craft and imported beer for L&F Distributors and Watts is the communications director for Visit McAllen. Each week they will have a new adventure and provide an opinion on various locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley.