600 Pine Street
Seattle WA 98101
A Lovely Date Spot in Pacific Place
By: Robin P
In the upscale Pacific Place mall in downtown Seattle sits Il Fornaio, an Italian restaurant part of a nationwide chain. Offering an extensive menu, it has been in been in Seattle since 1998, when the mall first opened.
I have to admit, I didn't want to like Il Fornaio. I personally dislike going to Pacific Place, and I assumed that the food at any restaurant within would be as I viewed the place as a whole: higher-end and attractively decorated, but ultimately mass-produced and unadventurous, with probably more money going into marketing than substance.
Boy, was I wrong. Offering an interesting range of dishes, which featured many handcrafted details and enjoyable flavors, it far exceeded the expectations I had coming in. While our team consensus was that some dishes were better than others, most were excellent, featuring high quality ingredients (like the housemade gnocchi and smoky rotisserie chicken) and attention to detail (pasta cooked to perfection). Even the bread -- freshly baked downstairs -- was exceptional.
The menu is quite large, offering about a dozen pasta dishes and wide choices of starters, pizzas, and meat dishes. All of the entrees our team sampled were quite rich and heavy on the cream and cheese, but were so well-made that they felt like a great way to splurge. Vegetarians -- most dishes contain some kind of meat, so this is not the best place for you.
The interior is expansive while still retaining some intimacy. Neutral earth tones helped the main dining room feel inviting and the large drape-covered windows let in daylight without glare. The decor was an interesting mix of bold, modern lighting fixtures and old-fashioned oil portraits. All together the room feels refined, yet comfortable.
Dining here was a great experience overall--the staff were friendly and attentive, the food delicious (if a little on the heavy side), and even the view of downtown was fun. Mall food court dining this is not. If you're in downtown to shop or attend an event, strongly consider stopping here for a nice meal out.
The Polenta Pasticciata ($7.95) was great, but seemed more like an appetizer that was meant to be enjoyed by one person rather than be shared amongst the group. It was so good, I contemplated hoarding the entire plate, but had second thoughts about it in the end. I didn't think too much of the Italian sausage because the texture reminded me a generic breakfast sausage. It was a good starter dish, but probably better enjoyed by one person rather than shared family-style.
I can best describe the Cannelloni Al Forno ($15.95) in two words: very rich. The sauce was a thick mixture of melted mozzarella, bchamel, and tomatoes. The piping hot plate helped to create a gooey mixture of ingredients that made each bite very filling. At first glance, I doubted that the cannelloni would be very filling, but looks were truly deceiving in this case. About halfway through the meal I had to call it quits because it was just too heavy. It was a great meal, but be prepared to take home some leftovers unless you have a very hearty appetite.
The Polenta Pasticciata was a real treat. With sausage, mushrooms, gorgonzola, truffle oil, and soft polenta (oozying like grits rather than cakey), it was wonderfully rich and savory. Highly recommended!
My Gnocchi Emilia ($14.95) was really delightful, consisting of an interesting combo of sweet squash plus salty, meaty ham in a cream sauce over gnocchi. The sweetness and richness hit the right buttons in my brain, but the combination of the specific flavors (the earthy sweetness of the squash, fatty saltiness of the ham, and herby taste of the mushrooms) worked well together, to my pleasant surprise.
The Carpaccio ($9.95) was the one disappointment of the evening. The beef was paper-thin and simply overwhelmed by the other strong flavors in the dish (grana, capers, and arugula) -- they didn't give us a chance to taste the meat itself.
The appetizers started off hit-and-miss, with a thumbs down for the carpaccio for the reasons mentioned above and a thumbs up for the polenta. What turned out well was my Ravioli alla Lucana ($16.95), which was made with Italian sausage, ricotta, parmesan, fennel, spicy tomato sauce, imported peperoncini, pecorino pepato cheese and fresh basil. Covering each of the large six ravioli squares was a dressing of sweet tomato sauce, topped off with a dusting of fine cheeses. The meat isn't as juicy as I had hoped, nor is the ravioli freshly made, but this is nit-picking on an otherwise agreeable meal. Do note that while the menu calls this dish spicy, I found the heat to be quite mild.
The night ended with an almond-crusted Cosi Duci that wasn't my first choice, as I generally find cannoli too mild for my tastes. However, to my pleasant surprise, Il Fornaio makes their cannoli a little sweeter than the typical Italian restaurant. While I may like the sweet touch, connoisseurs may not be so enamored with this version.
I generally share Robin's distrust of chain restaurants, so I was pleasantly surprised by Il Fornaio. The food is above par while service and ambiance are on par with other fine dining establishments in the Seattle area. To top it off having a meal in Downtown (in a mall no less) for under $20 is fairly impressive. This should prove that it isn't the death of chain restaurants yet (see our review for ), as families, co-workers or couples will likely find Il Fornaio a hit.
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