Il Fornaio (The Baker in Italian) is an Italian restaurant serving “creatively prepared, premium-quality Italian cuisine based on authentic regional Italian recipes.” They have 21 locations, many in California. They have been around since 1972, initially starting as a baking school. Now they are owned by a Private Equity group, no doubt trying to squeeze out profits.
The decor was modern Italian style architecture and decorations. The place was pretty busy and full of families, birthday celebrations, and many other large parties. Our last visit was in Summer 2018. Il Forniao is one of those restaurants where you really need to order the right item, otherwise you’ll end up disappointed. Unfortunately on our last visit, service had fallen way off.
We visited the Burlingame, California Il Fornaio location, which has a pretty standard menu with daily additional specialties menu. Il Fornaio has special weeks where food is from particular regions of Italy, try to dine when these are occurring. The Best of the Festa takes place in December. We returned for their Umbria month in February 2015. It is nice to see that they mix it up. They also have a their legendary bakery up front with beverages and sandwiches. They boasted that they are the busiest restaurant in Burlingame.
Il Fornaio Menu pics:
Note that they have 2 sizes of wines by the glass. You need to tell them which you want or else they default to the large one.
Il Fornaio Food Picks:
Yes, the bread is real good. (At least most of the time) Various kinds and olive oil and vinegar for dipping. By 2018, it was 2 types and they were getting stale!
Mojito was not very tall but at least better than average. Needed to ask for more simple syrup.
Rustichella ($15.50) was a large flat bread with tomatoes. Decent but very filling.
Insalata Bietole ($14.50) was an Organic red & gold beets with red wine vinegar, wild arugula, toasted walnuts & Asiago cheese; lemon-olive oil dressing . Large, full of beets, worth ordering.
Zuppa di Porcini, Patate e Zucca ($7.50) during Venteto promotion – Butternut squash soup with potatoes, porcini & champignon mushrooms; topped with Asiago cheese croutons (vegetarian – vegan without croutons) was a decent soup with lots of flavor. The crouton was stale.
Linguine Mare Chiaro ($19.95) Thin flat pasta with clams, mussels, prawns and scallops; seasoned with tomatoes, crushed red pepper, garlic and trebbiano wine was very good. Pasta well cooked. Ingredients were freshly made including the pasta. Dish could have been hotter though.
Pappardelle di Castagne ($18.79) TOSCANA Fresh chestnut pasta with Italian sausage, porcini mushrooms, tomatoes, crushed red pepper and Trebbiano wine was one of the most al dente pastas we have had in the San Francisco Bay Area! This brings it closer to the real deal in Italy. Pappardelle was homemade and made interesting with the chestnut flavors. Chopped up sausage rounded out this disk
Risotto con Porcini e Gamberetti ($22.50) PIEMONTE Imported carnaroli rice with shrimp, porcini mushrooms, baby spinach and shallots was also very al dente. Lots of chopped up shrimp, mushrooms, etc in every bite. A solid risotto that was not too creamy or rich.
Risotto Umbro Carnaroli rice, Italian sausage, porcini mushrooms, Grana Padano, pecorino, tomato, thyme and basil ($19.99) was on the menu during the February 2015 Umbria celebration. A reddish risotto with high quality bits of sausage and subdued mushroom and cheese flavors.
Risotto Di Camogli ($22.95) was a special in the Spring of 2017 for Liguria. Shrimp and artichoke risotto with pesto, topped with grilled scallops and tiger shrimp. Another great risotto with bold flavors and lots of ingredients.
Pasta alla Castellana Rigatoni pasta tossed with pork tenderloin, bacon, shiitake mushrooms, Parmigiano, brandy, cream and fresh thyme ($17.99) was an excellent pasta with a not too creamy sauce and lots of meat and mushrooms. They definitely know how to make pasta here. Two week special during Trentino Festival.
Gnocchi di Bietole e Spinaci Spinach and beet dumplings with porcini mushroom cream sauce and crispy sage (vegetarian) $17.99 was served during the Umbria February 2015 special. Really well done creamy sauce with heavy mushroom flavors. Gnocchi was made correctly too.
The Gnocchi during the Piemonte menu was Gnocchi con Brasato di Coniglio ($18.95) Housemade potato dumplings with braised rabbit ragu, sage, onions, tomato and Grana Padano cheese. The gnocchi was technically very good, but the tomato sauce added a bit too much acidity to the dish.
Gamberoni alla Busara ($32.95) during Veneto event – Giant prawns sautéed with paprika, garlic, capers, marinara, brandy & cream; served with spaghetti tossed with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil & Calabrian peperoncino. Heavily sauced but large fresh prawns made this a decent dish.
Cappellacci di Zucca ($21.95) Butternut squash pasta filled with butternut squash & walnuts served with tomato sauce, brown butter, Grana Padano & crispy sage. Great for vegetarians. Pretty huge portion size of fresh house made pasta with in season squash.
Gluten Free Pasta Bolognese ($18.95) is an egg-free dry pasta with short cut piece in a long boiled sauce. Very good with lots of flavor but not stellar.
Tagliata Chianina ($26.99) Beef tenderloin grilled rare and sliced, balsamic vinegar and green peppercorn sauce; served with sautéed organic spinach and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. A small but tender steak with sauce that was far too sweet.
Affogato Al Caffè ($5.95) Dessert. Espresso poured over two scoops of vanilla gelato and topped with fresh whipped cream was great. Hard to botch. The espresso was poured tableside and takes a while to trickle down.
Minestrone di Verdure ($4.79/6.79 vegan) Seasonal vegetable soup made with vegetable stock was pretty bland. Try something different.
Carpaccio ($9.95) Thinly sliced raw beef, shaved grana, capers and wild arugula drizzled with lemon-olive oil was a good dish. Lots of cheese and arugula, could have been more meat. Olive oil was not distinctive.
Pizza Piccolo ($6.95 Kids) – Pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese was ok. The crust was almost like uniform flatbred. Edge weren’t crispy at all.
Tagliatelle ($19.50) was decent but not great. The ragu was not as flavorful as we have encountered elsewhere.
Pizza Margherita ($12.99) Mozzarella, tomato sauce, oregano, fresh basil was average with a soft crust but solid cheese.
Pizza Fradiavola ($19.95) Mozzarella, tomato sauce, Italian sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers, red onions and spicy peperoncino oil was equally fair at best. Stick to the pasta.
Penne In Bolognese ($5.95 Kids) – Pasta tubes with Parmesan cheese and meat sauce was good. Good flavor, lots of meat sauce, perfect for kids.
Glass of Chardonnay ($8) Was really good and surprisingly reasonable in price.
La Tempesta ($9.95) cocktail with Ten cane rum, fresh orange, fresh lime, pineapple and passion fruit puree was very fruity and a little strong.
Pollo Toscano ($17.95) Rotisserie chicken seasoned with rosemary; served with sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes had chicken that was too dry and only lukewarm. Flavor of the chicken was ok. Real skimpy with 3 pieces of broccoli
The service at Il Fornaio has slide all the way down over the years. In 2018, it seemed like bus boys were promoted to waiters. One actually made an inappropriate remark. Yes it is hard to hire good people in the SF Bay Area, but come on. This is not Olive Garden.
The prices are inline with restaurants of this genre, there were not hot deals..
Some of the food was good, other dishes weren’t that great. Pasta is definitely their strong suit. You can get better Italian at similar prices from places like A16, Incanto, Delfina, and Perbacco. Locally, we would suggest you check out Osteria Coppa or Donata Enoteca. This place exhibited characteristics like a chain, and not a chef owned restaurant.