The Red Tablecloth Experience at Il Fornaio

October 21, 2011

While we’re taking a little break, this is a reprint of one of our favorite blog posts from prior years of Northwest Notes. Enjoy!

Three years ago (and totally under the radar), Il Fornaio, the popular Italian restaurant in Pacific Place shopping center in downtown Seattle, started an intriguing program in its main dining room that involves a red tablecloth and special freebies for one lucky couple each evening.

According to an e-mail from general manager Ross Lincoff, “The Italian term is ‘Tavolo d’Onore,’ which translates as, ‘Table of Honor.’ We started it about three years ago, with the idea of making it a focal point of the dining room—so people would look at the tablecloth color [red versus white in the rest of the dining room] and wonder, ‘What is that?’

“We see it as a way to really ‘wow’ the guest from a pure surprise perspective, something special and unexpected to make their dining experience more memorable,” Lincoff continued. “Sometimes we determine the winning couple by special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries, and sometimes it’s more of a spur-of-the-moment thing. It could be regulars that show up and are surprised, or people who strike up a conversation with the host who may seem like they’d enjoy a little extra attention.”

According to Lincoff, the Table of Honor has been an overwhelming success, and something that he feels is crucial, especially in these tough economic times. “We really believe that people are looking for a great experience, overwhelming value, and to be recognized more then ever. This is a GREAT way to accomplish all those things!”

So on a recent weekday night, during the height of our remodel and after two rounds of physical therapy that afternoon (one for my neck and the other for Spencer’s sprained ankle), we were lucky enough to be chosen to sit at the red-tablecloth table in the center of the busy dining room.

At first I figured we were “outed,” since we often eat in the main dining room of Il Fornaio or the more casual Risotteria down the winding stairs. Or perhaps because we live downtown and often shop or go to movies at Pacific Place. Or because I write about food and wine so much.

But we quickly realized that this happy and welcome coincidence was more likely because we fit pretty squarely into the category of “people who strike up a conversation with the host who may seem like they’d enjoy a little extra attention.”

And extra attention was certainly what we got from the moment the perky young hostess spotted us; whisked us to the aforementioned, dramatically draped, circular table in the center of the busy dining room; and introduced us to our very capable and knowledgable server, Luke L.

Il Fornaio Wine

Luke quickly delivered our first freebie of the evening—a bottle of La Verde still (or we could have had sparkling) mineral water from the Italian Alps. Next we ordered a bottle of Domaine Drouhin 2006 Pinot Noir to sip during supper.

Il Fornaio  Antipasti Plate

We quickly scarfed down the tasty (not to mention complimentary) antipasti plate that included chunks of Grana Padano cheese, toothsome olives, salami slices, bruschetta, and crostini with tapenade.

And our second complimentary course—two yummy pasta purses (Funny Hats, in Italian) filled with butternut squash and ricotta, napped by brown butter, and sprinkled with crunchy pumpkin seeds—were so nummy and were eaten up so quickly, we failed to snap a shot. Oh, well. All work and not play, etc.

Il Fornaio Pumpkin Pasta
Next up came our entrées (which we gladly paid for). Salmoncino Franciacorta—Wild Coho Salmon Filet with Sautéed Red Grapes, Shallots, and Franciacorta Sparkling Wine and served with Mache Salad and Roasted Yukon Golds—was one of three entrées offered on the special Festa Regionale menu that changes monthly and highlights a particular region in Italy. During the first two weeks in March, the highlighted region was Lombardia—Lombardy—the birthplace of Il Fornaio.
Il Fornaio Chicken
And Spencer’s favorite Pollo Toscano—Roasted Chicken with mashers and sautéed veggies.
Il Fornaio Zabaglione

For dessert, we shared a lovely, light, spring-y Lemon Zabaglione with fresh citrus segments, cherries, and blackberries. It was the final (and complimentary) course to a perfectly served and much enjoyed and appreciated meal.

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