We’ve been waiting and the day is finally here! We have had our first dinner at the brand new Trattoria al Forno, and we’re excited to share it with you!
Trattoria al Forno replaces Kouzzina by Cat Cora, which closed in September after a 5-year run on the BoardWalk. While we have heard from some readers that they’ll miss the Greek restaurant, we are interested in seeing just how Disney goes forward bringing an Italian offering to this space.
It is true that there are many Italian restaurants on Disney World property — several within walking distance of Trattoria al Forno. So it will be interesting to see how this one compares. Speaking of, let’s head in and explore a bit before we turn our attention to the food.
We gave you the full tour of the new restaurant last week, but we’ll show you around just a little here as well. You’ll find Trattoria al Forno tucked into Disney’s BoarkWalk, right between Seashore Sweets and the BoardWalk Pizza Window.
Step inside, and rich, earthy finishes of stone and wood greet you. Directly ahead, the bank of wine coolers hints to you the large role that vino plays in the menu.
As was the case in the restaurant’s previous lives — before it was Kouzzina, the Mediterranean-leaning Spoodles occupied the spot — the exhibition kitchen has always been the main focus of the dining room. That continues with Trattoria al Forno.
And it is this detail that makes the backstory of the space a little thin. As it goes, Trattoria al Forno is a family-owned restaurant that has been on the BoardWalk for years. Originally, the family owned a boardinghouse and a restaurant, but over time, the restaurant has grown.
With its growth, it has expanded down the BoardWalk, taking in one room after another — but they all face the beautiful exhibition kitchen. Perhaps the kitchen grew, too.
This is one of the most extensive “on stage” kitchens that you’ll find at Disney World. It seems that just about everything takes place in front of guests, and finishes and equipment are part of the decor. Check out the bright red meat slicer, which will be used to slice some paper-thin charcuterie a little later on in our story.
(By the way, in the background of this picture you’ll see Chef Dee Foundoukis, who arrived here to head the kitchen for Cat Cora at Kouzzina and has apparently stayed on with Trattoria al Forno. So for those who are chef-watchers at Disney World, that may be an interesting tidbit.)
But let’s get back to the theme. To convey the progression, you see slight changes throughout the space from “room” to “room.” The restaurant’s original dining room is the Cucina, a warm, casual spot that has the feel of an eat-in kitchen.
At some point, the family must have decided to glam things up a bit and build a more upscale dining room, and the Sala de Pranzo came into being. You know you’ve arrived in the formal dining room from cues like the crystal chandeliers overhead and the large display of silver and glassware along the back wall.
Still, business continued to boom, so a living room area, the Salotto, was converted to the restaurant’s third dining room.
Finally, guests may also find themselves in the Taverna. According to the story, this secluded area represents the restaurant’s origins and still retains the feel of a cozy inn restaurant. (Guests who dined at Kouzzina will recognize this as the former “Coranation” Room, an area used for Chef’s Table dining.)
Throughout the space, the seating is comfortable, and finishes are rich and refined. There is a mismatched sense to the furnishings, but it doesn’t really intrude on your consciousness. Overall, the theme here is conveyed in subtle fashion.
We had dinner at Trattoria al Forno on opening night, and the restaurant was full throughout our time there. Even at capacity, however, it never seemed loud or uncomfortable. Shocking, since the previous restaurants in this space — Kouzzina and Spoodles — were well known for sound carrying and bouncing off the walls.
Speaking of dinner, let’s get to it.
When we sat down to order at Trattoria al Forno, we found the menu to be a curious mix. Based on pricing alone, you quickly understand that this is not a signature dining experience. (And be happy about that; your wallet will most certainly thank you.)
However, Chef Dee and her talented crew still seem to be doing something special here.
Remember that bank of wine coolers in the waiting area? There’s a good reason for that emphasis right up front. Trattoria al Forno features a wine list comprised completely of Italian wines.
And the list of offerings was impressively extensive. More than 60 bottles represent the major wine regions of Italy. And on the night that we visited, there were over 30 wines available by the glass or quartino.
In addition, guests who are looking to learn (or who just enjoy a little variety) can choose from a full list of Wine Flights.
If your tastes do not run to wine, there are other interesting options as well. Choose from a list of Specialty Cocktails, or try one of three Grappas on offer. If you’re interested in exploring Italian Beer, there are also some enticing options on that front, including larger bottles for sharing.
The Dinner Menu is rather small in scale, taking only one page for Appetizers, Pizzas, and Entrees. We found there to be a good mix of familiar dishes, but there were also a couple of things that we were less familiar with. You’ll see the whole fish made it over from Kouzzina.
Because my friend isn’t much of a wine drinker, I opted for a quartino of the Cantine Dei Rosso di Montepulciano, a Tuscan Red. It was the perfect medium-bodied wine to sip before our food arrived and throughout my meal. The quartino, about a glass and a half of wine, was exactly the right amount as well.
After we ordered, our server brought to the table a small loaf of Ciabatta Bread, wrapped in paper and still warm from the oven. This might be a good time to mention that each table includes a stand in the middle for placing shared dishes. Beneath the stand was a stack of bread plates that we also used to share the various courses. We used the stand at least three separate times during the course of our meal.
There were small cans of Tuscan Olive Oil on the tables, but no dishes to pour the olive into, so I added a little to my bread plate. Our server instructed us to pull apart the bread in rustic fashion. No butter came with the bread automatically, but we saw a table nearby with some, so I’m assuming that you could have it if you asked.
I also noted at this point the absence of salt and pepper on the table — something I missed, since I usually add fresh ground pepper to my olive oil. This is a carryover from Kouzzina. I once asked at Kouzzina if I could get a salt shaker, since my Greek Lasagna was utterly tasteless, and was told by my server that the Chef didn’t want salt and pepper on the table as the food should have come out perfectly spiced. So bring your own salt and pepper packets, folks.
The bread was fresh however, and the olive oil was extremely flavorful.
We decided to begin our meal with the Grilled Treviso. I’ll be honest: I had to Google it.
I quickly learned that Treviso is a type of Radicchio, but its long, tapered shape is more in line with what we think of as Endive. I was excited to try it. It’s a winter vegetable, so I appreciated that nod to the use of seasonal ingredients.
The Treviso was pleasantly smokey and charred, and was served with Gorgonzola Dolce and Pistachio Gremolata. The flavors were amazing, with the Gremolata cutting through the richness of the Gorgonzola.
This was a dish that I didn’t particularly want to share. In fact, I think it was my favorite of the night.
Next, we decided to share the Thin-Sliced Italian Cured Meats. They’re served with House-Pickled Peppers, Olives, and Caponata.
The menu doesn’t specifically name the meats that you can expect; I’m assuming this allows the chef to change the offerings depending on what’s available.
Our plate included Prosciutto, Soppressata, Bresaola, and Coppa.
The meats were delicious and I enjoyed trying the different varieties and noting the differences in each. We also enjoyed the accompaniments, especially the freshly-prepared Caponata and the Olives. I think I would enjoy the platter more if it included an assortment of Italian cheese as well.
Next, we sampled the Truffle Cream Pizza. Doesn’t the name just sound amazing?
The White Pizza includes three cheeses — Asiago, Pecorino, and Fontina.
The Truffle Flavor was very subtle. It may have been because we had just sampled the strongly flavored meats. Overall, I wanted a little more truffle, but the crust was tender and the cheese complemented the truffle flavor nicely. I always love the nutty flavors of Asiago and Pecorino, which marry so well with the creamy Fontina.
This is a great time to mention something we observed during the meal. Trattoria al Forno isn’t really being marketed as a small plates spot, but I think you could easily enjoy it this way. Because we were both eager to taste each dish and offer an opinion, we basically split everything. The dishes that we chose and the addition of those bread plates that were already on the table made this very easy to do. There were so many other things we wanted to try! But there was only so much room on the table and in our stomachs.
On to entrees…on our first visit, we thought we’d stick with a couple of more traditional dishes to gauge how they executed the classics. First up, a DFB favorite — Chicken Breast alla Parmigiana.
The first thing to note was the huge portion. Although the Chicken Breast was pounded flat, making it appear larger, it was still a big portion.
The Chicken was juicy and well seasoned with a crisp breading. We enjoyed the Fresh Marinara as well.
If the dish had a weak component, it was the Tagliatelle served on the side. It was a very lightly tossed in sauce; in fact, I could barely taste it. It’s nothing that couldn’t have been corrected by asking for a little side of sauce, however.
We were also intrigued by another fun take on a traditional dish — the Polpetta Gigante. The Giant Meatball is served on a bed of three Ricotta Cannelloni, and the dish is smothered in Fresh Marinara.
The sauce itself had a little zip to it. I tasted the sauce on the chicken and then this one, and they did seem to be different. The tomato sauce on the chicken had more of a fresh tomato flavor and much less spice.
We cut into the meatball to check it out, and were surprised to see that there was a lot of green inside! I discussed the meatball at length with our awesome server, Ryan. He said that it was All-Beef, and that the green was finely chopped Spinach, which lent some moisture to the meat mix. This is especially important, he commented, because the meatballs are cooked at high heat. I’m assuming that they’re prepared in the wood-fired oven.
I’ll also note that the meatball was well seasoned, and was actually quite spicy. I tasted the sauce separately from the meat to see if I was just picking up the spice from the marinara, but it was definitely the meatball. I loved it — but it may give pause to someone who isn’t a fan of spicy foods.
The meatball is served on a bed of Ricotta Canneloni. The rolled pasta was simple but delicious.
Next, it was time to move onto something sweet, and we took our time poring over the Dessert Menu. There are some very interesting Digestifs and Liqueurs.
We were also both impressed with the Espresso and Coffee Offerings. The desserts themselves seemed to represent a good balance again of traditional with some surprises thrown in for good measure.
We settled on a Press Pot of Coffee to share. It was incredibly good, and the perfect ending to our meal.
We decided to sample three of the eight desserts. We started with Tiramisù. The classic dessert was extremely light in flavor and texture.
The Mascarpone was very lightly sweetened and the Ladyfingers used as the cake component were soaked with Espresso, but the recipe seems to be devoid of any alcohol. I missed the little punch that the customary dark rum or Kahlúa gives the mix, but it was still quite good.
Next, we tried the Signature Dessert — Bomboloni.
Traditionally, Bomboloni are filled, but in this case, the light, egg-shaped doughnuts are served with Dark Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Gelato instead.
While they were good, I think I would have enjoyed more sauce with them, and the portion was quite small. Still, the idea of doughnuts and ice cream is a good one.
Finally, we were intrigued by the Spaghetti Gelato and Meatballs. After asking exactly what it was we decided to give it a try, too.
This one is pretty basic — Vanilla Gelato is put through a machine to resemble Spaghetti, and is topped with Raspberry Coulis. Raspberries are rolled in some type of fine crumb (pistachio?) to resemble Meatballs. Pretty similar to the kids’ dessert cupcake concept over at Mama Melrose.
It was fun and fresh, and the Gelato and Press Pot Coffee pairing was a match made in heaven. But I would skip this one if you’re an adult. Tweens or kiddos who’d like to order something from the grown-up menu might get a kick out of it, however. I think the next time I want Gelato, I’ll stick to the Affogato al Caffe or the Spoonful of Gelato. With all of the terrific gelato options on the menu, I think they should go with a sampler of two or three flavors.
And with that, it was time to wrap up dinner and walk a bit of that food off at Epcot.
Much has been made of the fact that Trattoria al Forno is another Italian restaurant in a sea of similar eateries at Disney, but I think there is a distinction to be made here.
To begin, there are some truly interesting things going on with the menu. I was pretty impressed with the wine list, stocked exclusively with wines from all over Italy. But in addition, the assortment of Grappas, Italian Beer, and really interesting Italian Liqueurs and coffees took the experience to another level. As such, the closest comparisons here would be Tutto Gusto and Tutto Italia in Epcot’s Italy pavilion, and Il Mulino in the Swan Resort.
I think the menu also represents a good balance. This is Italian, and people will expect there to be certain standard dishes — especially at Disney World. Chef Dee has balanced that expectation against offering some more interesting options. I am very excited to see where the menu goes from here, and how it is tweaked in the long run.
And speaking of the long run, that’s the expectation for Trattoria al Forno. We had the opportunity to speak briefly to Chef Dee during dinner, and she’s very excited about the restaurant and its long term prospects. After all, there is a reason that Italian cuisine is so popular. It is at once comforting and unexpected. I think that sums up what we are seeing here perfectly.
Finally, I want to mention that we had seriously great service. Our server, Ryan, was relaxed, funny, and very knowledgeable about the menu. I must have asked a hundred questions about the food and wine, and he was prepared to answer every one. It seemed clear to me from chatting with him and other members of the staff that they’re very excited about the new direction the restaurant is taking.
Will you be dining at Trattoria al Forno in the near future? Leave us a comment and share with us your thoughts!