Fornelletto mixes trattoria-style fare with formal dining and a New York City influence
In a casino complex whose appellation derives from the Italian word for “village,” Fornelletto restaurant now plays the indispensable role of the house’s standard-bearer for that revered cuisine.
Dining over Labor Day weekend, we took note of many small, but significant changes made since conversion from its original occupant, Chef Lucas Palladino’s Specchio/Ombra.
First and foremost, there is a definitive New York City influence, both in menu and personality. Which only makes sense, since Fornelletto’s creator and executive chef, Stephen Kalt, is a native of our neighbor to the north. The atmosphere is livelier, even boisterous at times. Kalt’s menu, broader than at Specchio, offers casual, trattoria-style fare and fine, formal options.
A simple appetizer began the evening’s gastronomic proceedings: Castelvetrano olives, tossed with diced pecorino toscano cheese and toasted almonds. The olives were an incredible bright green hue and possessed a surprising, sweet essence. Paired with the soft sheep’s milk cheese and crunchy nuts, we were eager to assist our companion in finishing her bowlful.
My trio of stuffed zucchini flowers were artful, delicate and wispy. Piped with a minted mix of goat cheese and avocado they had been barely coated in batter, and then fried with great care not to damage the vegetative shells. The result was a golden, heavenly, just-so exterior, yielding to a warm, luscious center.
Since Fornelletto translates as “little oven” in the language of romance, we absolutely wanted to sample one of the kitchen’s dozen or so stylish pizzas.
Settling after much negotiation on a Sicilian version, we were pleased at the pause in service between courses. This served to indicate the pie hadn’t been “fired” until our app plates had been returned, fully empty, we might add, to the kitchen.
The pizza’s soft, pliable crust had been allowed to bubble and mildly darken in spots. Topped with roasted peppers and pungent fennel sausage, the six-slice pie could have easily functioned as an ideal lunch or light dinner on its own.
The very finest item on this night was my tagliarini, a thinner version of linguine. The turban of clearly fresh-made pasta was tossed with jumbo lump crab, sea urchin butter, sea asparagus and oven dried tomatoes.
This tasty confluence brought a delightful aroma and heady oceanic flavor, courtesy of the exotic sea urchin’s influence. It also cleverly portrayed the colors of the Italian flag: white pasta, green from the aquatic asparagus and a chunky, red tomato sauce.
From the fish portion of the bill of fare, our other selection was a basil-crusted sword. Cut into a filet, the faultless piece of rectangular white fish took on the appearance of a classic scaloppini. Coated with a regal, verdant crust, the lovely late-summer taste paired elegantly with the plate’s colorful garnishes, a blend of artichokes, peas, fava beans and diced asparagus.
Seeing a favorite ingredient, nutella, was all the convincing we needed to try the dark chocolate budino for dessert. Recreated authentically as an airy mousse of chocolate and hazelnut, it had been formed into a disc, structured atop a layer of textural butter crunch. Presented on a sexy tear-shaped plate, a similar shape formed by a spoon of ivory-white mascarpone cream finished the sweet composition.
Closing out our evening, a Sicilian ice cream sandwich brought a pretty brioche bun filled with excellent house-made vanilla gelato and drizzled with thousand flowers honey.
E-mail Frank Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: The Borgata, A.C.
Hours: Call for hours and reservations
Details: Liquor license; major credit cards accepted
Star chef Luke Palladino recently opened his third Atlantic City eatery, Luke’s Kitchen & Marketplace at Revel.
Since taking charge of the subterranean space known as Fornelletto in 2009, New York City native Stephen Kalt has put his own distinctive spin on its cuisine, and attitude.
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