June 24, 2007

Another Italian Joint

Il Forno is a large open restaurant with a large bar at one side, beer and wine only. There is also a lovely patio that has a fountain. I have been here several times as I work a block away and any time some decent place to eat moves into town we are thrilled, a place for lunch that is walking distance. The owner has been in the restaurant business for years and always greets me warmly when I walk through the door.

Downtown Azusa is known for its purple light poles, and lack of any destination type place restaurant shops etc. However over the last couple years things are changing. Gone are the pawn shops and boarded up hotel, now there is Starbucks, a small Japanese restaurant (which I don't recommend), real estate offices, and Il Forno.

The food is consistent, the only complaint I ever had was the day it opened and my pasta, though good, was served cold. I think their strengths are the pasta dishes and the thin crust pizza and calzones. They have several sandwiches on the menu and other than the sausage or meatball are just sandwiches. There is a selection of salads and now during the summer months there is almost always a salad special on the board. I have had their soups also and find them good and flavorful.

The prices are right, and the owner has been through a couple iterations of the menu, this one seems to be sticking. I will continue to frequent the place, consistent close to the office and friendly. If you are in the neighborhood it is worth a try. But for really authentic Itialian go to Brigante.


Douglas Cress said...

can I have a bite of your calzone?

Roman said...

First, I have to say that I've only dined at Il Forno during its first week of business. I can't say it was an overall positive experience.

Service: The owner was present, and he was very nice. The hostess, who I believe may be the owners wife, spent way too much time chatting with (and therefor distracting) the man who appeared to be the head waiter. We sat in very close proximity to her counter, and not once did she check if we or anyone else needed service - which we too often did.

Which leads to our server. A very nice girl, but clearly had ZERO prior experience working in a restaurant in any capacity. She was in over her head, and trust me, we are EASY, NICE customers. She didn't know the menu, she didn't know salad dressings, she took plates (and bread) off the table before we were done with them (and faster than we could ask her not to). It was actually amusing, sort of humorous.

But the worst, which unfortunately is the most important aspect of a restaurant, was the food. The salads were generous, but they had a taste that I can only describe as ''packaged.'' (And I've had salads out of a bag that taste fresh.) The spinach salad I ordered was met with staff confusion when brought to me without a dressing. If it's a spinach salad, hey, we KNOW it's tossed in oil, in bacon dressing, or a balsamic vinagrette. I was offered RANCH (and ONLY ranch)... and it was about the most out-of-a-can tasting ranch I'd ever had... and BEIGE in color.

Next up was the soup, which was nearly the worst part of the evening. Let's spread this message to everyone considering opening a restaurant: CUSTOMERS DON'T GO OUT TO EAT SO THAT THEY CAN BE SERVED CANNED FOOD. What that clues you into is actually a little worse than you may think. We were served cream of spinach soup. Care to hear how it was made? CANNED SPINACH mixed with some cream and warmed up. No joke. That's exactly what it was, no more and no less.

But the worst, sadly, was the pizza we ordered. I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that DiGiorno frozen pizza has it all over this Il Forno tragedy. I could immediately tell what was wrong with this sausage and veggie combo we were served. (1) The dough of this pizza was porous and absorbed the sauce. So when it was served to us, it was like the crust was wet bread. (2) Frozen veggies. It was clearly a standard mix of frozen chopped bell peppers, and not even a good grade of such. Sadly, even the onions were frozen - not fresh... And worst of all (3) You know your pizza was topped with frozen sausage when you bight into it and every piece of the sausage is cold and water-juicy (in contrast to the pizza itself being warm).

It wasn't even too busy of a night, so I can't toss it up to the staff being overburdened. I was told by someone in the know that the owner was connected to some food service supplier (which would explain all the canned/frozen/bagged content we could WAY too easily identify). When we left, we still tipped nicely (for effort) and were totally cordial to the staff.

As an Azusa resident, I want SO bad for this place to succeed.

For ambiance, I give Il Forno and A-. It would get an A+ if it would just raise its license to serving a full bar (right now, it's limited to wine and beer).

A little side note: the restaurant recently raised a banner that had some diatribe about the owners feelings toward Pasadena. (I called it the ''F.U. Pasadena'' banner). Apparently, the owner had a restaurant there and it was a bad experience for him. But the banner was in very poor taste. It's irritating for the public to be exposed to a business owners ''issues'' of the past, and - even though it was just Il Forno's opinion - the banner made our city look like a bad, jealous neighbor of Pasadena. Thankfully, the owner recently removed the banner.

Again, I REALLY want this restaurant to succeed. It could help make Downtown Azusa a destination. It has such great potential. But things like what I described above, if they continue, could kill that.

I know Il Forno's prices are very reasonable. But, geez, raise everything a buck if you have to - if it means you're going to serve QUALITY, fresher foods. Again, no one goes out to eat to be served stuff they can easily pour out of a generic-label can/bag from an average grocery store.

My advice to Il Forno is to raise the bar on themselves. Check out the competition, like Spaghetti Eddie's in Glendora, or further-off Italian destinations like Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock. Learn what makes recipes work. For example: don't look to no-frills Rachael Ray - look to someone like Giada DeLaurentis for Italian food ideas (and like making sure your Spinach salad is offered with a balsamic vinagrette, not some very low-quality, oil-based ranch).

Don't just give Azusa customers ''anything'' - give them food and a dining experience that's special, that rivals the competitors.

It was only the first week when we ate there. Maybe it's become better. But based on the experience, this is my conclusion: With its incredible vibe and nicely staged atmosphere, Il Forno has great potential. They just need to live up to it by raising the quality of their food and service. The experiece for us for so off-kilter, that we'll actually have to muster-up some enthusiasm - or even better, hear news that the owner recognized and addressed these needs for improvement - before we we can give it another shot.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have alot of time on your hands to go out and eat all the time. Personally, I enjoy cooking at home and entertaining with my friends.

Maybe you should try to meet people in other situations that do not have something to do with food.


PS... I like your blog design.

KL2 said...

'Anonymous' environmentalist, you seem to speak with an attitude (and strangely misplaced). Pardon me, but what in the hell are you talking about? Who exactly are you directing those comments toward? Anyone who opts to eat out? ... I personally enjoy entertaining from home with friends, too. I actually kick ass at it. But I happen to keep friends who are honest, forthcoming, you know... Personally I like to be able to look at myself in the mirror each day without wondering if I'm an enormous hypocrite who talks a big peace-love-and-harmony-talk just to make himself feel better (better enough to arbitrarily condescend to other people). But that's beside the point.... The real point is, some of us are able to live an honest, balanced life, one where we can enjoy time at our homes while still going OUT of the house and having a good time. It doesn't always have to do with food, but people DO EAT, and it's nice to be able to share experiences about the different restaurants we all try.... One thing is certain, we're not reclusive. At least we show our faces out in public more than once in a while! Maybe it's you that has this abundance of time on your hands and isn't doing anything at all with it. You know what they say about those who protest too much...

Anonymous said...

Hey K12! How are you? I great to see your still around. I have seen your posts before!

I also read your posts on the following blogs and enjoyed you views:




One thing on your post on the corn and toast blog...

Isnt there a better way to identify a regular movement other than look in the bowl for trace ammounts of corn in the waste?

Also, I dont think mixing prune juice with vodka is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Hey, why don't you find something to do better with your day than to randomly attack people here?

If you're so against eating out and people who talk about it, then why are you coming here other than to pick fights? That's called being a TROLL.

Go start an anti-restaurant blog or something. Leave people here alone.

bruce said...

well folks...Sammy's Il Forno has now been open for about a year and has improved and come along quite nicely. Sammy now has his full bar and an experienced bartender. The food is excellent and we eat here and out other places quite a bit. I have written a few reviews under BKIND for Tripadvisor that you can peruse at your leisure. Somehow I wonder how many restaurants roman has operated or how many liquor licenses he has gotten. Does roman write reviews anywhere except for this snide attack on Sammy? Sammy is one of the nicest, most amiable people I have ever met. Il Forno is a gem here in our community and Sammy has worked really hard to iron out any kinks he may have had when he first opened. Maybe I can't determine whether I'm eating out of a can, so I went back into the kitchen. Guess what I found...... fresh ingredients, surprise, surprise! The Marguerita pizza is really good as is the all meat pizza. I don't think they make the chocolate cake here on the premises, but I still liked it. One thing I like that some others may not like is anchovies and chipotle peppers on my pizza. Am I a gourmand?...say it isn't so!

Roman said...

This is going to be a VERY POSITIVE follow-up to my previous review. But first I have to address Bruce, aka The Gun Jumper.

Bruce, my review was certainly not a "snide attack" on Sammy. You're actually out of line to suggest there was anything personal about it. Did you read it in its entirety? Are you suggesting that I fabricated our experience, or that I didn't OPENLY and POINTEDLY wish Il Forno success? You even acknowledged that there were "kinks" to be ironed out after Il Forno's opening. So it's off-base of you to suggest malice or insincerity.

You went on about Sammy, the owner, personally. The purpose of reviewing a restaurant - at least for me - has little to do with its owner. Except for cases, like, his erecting the aformentioned "take that Pasadena" banner... which, by the way, do YOU think is a great idea for any restaurant? Many people I know, Sammy's good friends included, urged him to remove it - and he did.

As you might be able to tell, I'm familiar with Sammy, and didn't feel warm and fuzzy about posting that review - which was 100% my honest take. I did say in that review that we would eventually give Il Forno another shot - and we did. Which is why I came here... I remembered posting the review and wanted to follow up on it.

Several months ago, a mutual friend (mutual between the owner and I) told me that Sammy did in fact replace his head chef BECAUSE of his own concerns about the food quality. Apparently, my sentiment of its early days wasn't exclusive - and apparently, the owner's decision paid off big time!

Il Forno HAS improved by leaps and bounds in the past year. First thing we observed was an improved lay-out. The flow of the restaurant is MUCH better. It's too convoluted to describe the change here. So other than to say they've flipped it around a bit, you'll have to visit and see for yourself.

And it will be worth the visit. The Sunday Brunch is a really good value at $12.95. A combination of traditional breakfast foods, Italian dishes, and desserts are served (including Creme Brulee!). I'm not the least bit reluctant in reporting that it was tasty and fresh.

Dinner is great, too. As I said in my previous "scathing, axe-grinding" review, the ambiance is an A+. The quality of the food certainly lives up to that. We had two very delicious appetizers, and their Veal Parmesean is excellent. The spaghetti is evidently boiled with garlic cloves... a VERY nice touch for flavor. Like I said, there's defenitely a new chef, and it shows in the most delicious way.

As for the pizza, we've only tried it with the Sunday Brunch, not made to order. It was pretty good. Definitely no issues with cooking or ingredient quality this time around. The crust was tasty and firm as it should be.

The menu offerings have also expanded since the opening. We were pleased to have more choices in every category. We also saw that the Spinach Salad comes WITH a dressing... you guessed it: hot Bacon. Other salads listed have very appropriate, complimentary dressings, as well. This is in stark contrast to what's mentioned in my prevous review, and certainly a great move.

The service was excellent, and the restaurant overall runs like a well-oiled machince.

So I am VERY HAPPY to say that Il Forno is now an excellent place to dine. As I said in my previous review, I want SO BADLY FOR IT TO SUCCEED. Il Forno has acheived that success, and then some.

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