Give me tasty Italian food, and I’ll love you forever – this seems to be my foodie life’s motto. Indeed, nothing gets me more excited than the opportunity to spend time enjoying the delights of Italian cuisine – panini and beyond 😉 – while out and about in our beautiful city. Splendid in its rusticity and profound in its flavors, Italian cuisine is a work in progress to me: I enjoy learning about it, I enjoy tasting it, and I never miss an opportunity to learn and to taste even more.
I recently got an invitation to try the food at the Forno Rosso restaurant in the West Loop, and the invitation mentioned something about panuozzi, a form of street food which comes from the Campania region of Italy. A panuozzo (plural: panuozzi) is made by using pizza dough to make a type of panino, which is then filled with various ingredients and is baked in the wood-burning pizza oven. As a big panini lover and self-confessed foodie, I was intrigued by the concept and definitely wanted to give it a try, and this is why I accepted the invitation and took my friend Marina along to experience Italian dishes made the authentic Neapolitan way.
After a few very successful years in the Dunning neighborhood, Forno Rosso opened its second restaurant in the West Loop in January 2016. Several restaurants in the area (such as this one) have shut their doors for good in the past few years, while new ones pop up all the time, which means the stakes are high: you must deliver outstanding food consistently in order to be able to survive in such a competitive location.
Authenticity lies at the heart of Forno Rosso: the restaurant is a member of The True Neapolitan Pizza Association (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, AVPN), a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and protect the “true Neapolitan pizza“ worldwide. As a member, Forno Rosso adheres to strict rules concerning the pizza making process, starting with the ingredients and equipment used and ending with the flavor of the finished product.
Delivered straight from Italy, the ruby red wood-burning pizza oven at Forno Rosso satisfies the AVPN very precise standards and is legendary among Chitown pizza aficionados:
The minimalist Italian decor inside the restaurant benefits from the effective use of natural light, which enhances the dining experience. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fair share of meals served in very poor light, and as such I am always overjoyed to see a restaurant using natural light to its full potential. This detail can make such a big difference!
Is there a better way to start an Italian dining experience than with burrata? None that I know of, anyway. 🙂 I needed good, wholesome burrata in my life, and my craving was satisfied at Forno Rosso. This generously sized pocket of sturdy mozzarella with magic rivers of creamy goodness inside was served on focaccia which had been baked to perfection in the pizza oven. The burrata and focaccia were delicious on their own. Put together, they made up a decadent and truly memorable antipasto. Here’s a dish that was easy to look at, but very difficult to share, lol
Next on my list was the salumi misti, a classic assortment of Italian cured meats and cheeses served with an olive medley. I am always on the lookout for quality cured meats, and the mixture of flavors and textures I encountered at Forno Rosso did not disappoint. The prosciutto and the capicola were my favorite elements on this plate. Luscious and satisfying, the marbled smoothness of the capicola offered a sight to behold. I unashamedly paired it with the burrata nearby, and my mouth was instantly sent to culinary heaven:
No Italian dining experience is complete without pizza, right? Neapolitan pizza is famous for its defining characteristics: it only takes about one minute to cook in the blistering hot oven, it has a crispy crust and a chewy center, and it is thin, soft and foldable. The carnivore in me picked the Tre Carne pizza – and what a great choice that was! Comprising local sausage made to order, imported speck and hot soppressata covered in scrumptious layers of fior di latte and bathed in San Marzano tomatoes, this pie was light and supple – the perfect option if you’re not a fan of thick crust pizza. Albeit delicate in appearance, Tre Carne was sturdy enough to carry the abundant toppings, and the textural contrast between the soft center and the crunchy, charred edges was really nice.
Here’s how indulgence without the extra guilt/weight looks like:
After antipasti and pizza, the moment of truth had come: the panuozzo! I chose the Polpette variety, with meatballs, fior di latte, San Marzano tomatoes and grana padano.
Oh, the excitement!
Warm and soft, the Polpette panuozzo was well-composed and rather filling, making a nice contrast with the light-as-a-feather Neapolitan pizza. The meatballs and tomato sauce made for a robust and flavorful center, while the melted mozzarella provided plenty of moisture and dairy goodness. I was looking forward to trying this panuozzo, and my expectations were actually surpassed. I was impressed with the hearty, honest and authentic feel of this dish, as well as with the good quality ingredients it was made of. I ate half of the panuozzo and took the other half home. Such unadulterated pleasure was simply too good to let go 🙂
My friend and I left Forno Rosso happy and satisfied with our culinary discoveries. Good eats always put a smile on my face, while also reinforcing my passion for food and my desire to stay the course. I will come back to Forno Rosso whenever I want to experience culinary happiness and to reconnect with rustic Italian food – authentic, pure, joyful and vibrant.
*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own. Please keep in mind that Forno Rosso serves panuozzi at lunch only.