When I was given the chance to dine at Forneletto, the Italian restaurant in Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino and Resort, I expected some pretty good Italian food. After all, Chef Stephen Kalt has helmed restaurants from New York all the way to Las Vegas. He even deigned to be at this press meal, so if he didn’t deliver, he could expect some pretty harsh criticism right to his face.
No wonder he was so brave to eat with us. He had nothing to worry about.
Fornelletto is a dark, bustling restaurant with many rooms. It is upscale but relaxed, the sort of place that is perfect for a rehearsal dinner or a large birthday celebration.
Fritto Misto is easy to get wrong, with greasy or leaden batter or sub par fish. This escaped all those pitfalls. The sardines are flaky and moist, with a briny, fresh taste. The batter is crisp and very dry, contrasting with the flaky fish. The fish can be eaten whole, the bones so soft and small that they disappear upon contact with your tongue. The calamari is tender and the artichokes are meaty, crunchy without and almost fluffy within. The lemon aioli served alongside brightens up the batter, smooth and creamy.
The ideal follow-up to a fried appetizer, because it is crisp and acidic, reawakening the palate. Thinly shaved fennel, bitter endive, and sharp red onion in a pungent, garlicky dressing that is akin to a very bright Caesar vinaigrette. The fennel adds just the right tough of sweetness to keep this from being a salt or umami overload. This is refreshing and clean – the perfect gateway from here to fattier, heartier dishes.
You know how much I love burrata, right? Well…I still love it. Here, it is just cut, served with sweet and earthy New Jersey Tomatoes (the best in the world), and topped with salt, some diced shallots, and basil. A drizzle of olive oil to enhance the burrata’s creamy, rich texture and taste and the dish is complete. The tomatoes’ acidity cuts through the fat of the dish and the basil adds an almost peppery note. Nothing new here, but when the ingredients are this perfect, why would you mess with it?
As a quick note, this is one of Kalt’s strongest attributes as a chef. He chooses the best ingredients possible then does very little to them, to ensure that they shine on their own. His success lies in his excellent palate and his restraint as a chef – he never gilds the lily.
Crust is usually what makes a pizza. Here it is the meatball. The meatball of my dreams. Intensely meaty, with robust beefy flavor and the unmistakable sweet backnote of pork. The meatball is so powerful that it easily takes center stage, with the mild tomato sauce, rather undercharred crust, and delightfully greasy mozzarella taking the backseat. This pizza is the ideal balance between low brown indulgence and high-end artisan product.
The coup of the night. The pastas are excellent. The ravioli, filled with artichokes, peas, and Montasio cheese are bright within their creaminess, grassy from the peas. The gnocchi are rich but fluffy, not heavy. The parmesan cream is sharp and nutty at the same time, rich but not unctuous or greasy. This is almost the alfredo of the gnocchi world. The surprise of the night was the tripe. I have never had it before, and this is the ideal way to introduce a tripe virgin to the food. Cooked until tender and falling apart, it was unrecognizable from the delightfully chewy tubes of paccheri noodles. The tripe has a mild, slightly minerally taste that is akin to the deep taste of chicken liver, with a texture more akin to shortribs. Comforting and hearty in a vibrant, bright pomodoro sauce with salty proscuitto, this is a winner. All the pastas are sensational – clearly Kalt’s forte and not to be missed.
Including an incredibly corn gelato, which is the essence of sweet, sunny corn with the most buttery, sweet butterscotch sauce, this was a wonderful meal. The prices here are not cheap, but they are far more reasonable than they would be in Las Vegas or NYC. The care taken with choosing the ingredients is obvious, as is the excellent technique of the cooking itself. Kalt laid himself open to criticism and received none.
Except for the fact that I only go tone meatball on my pizza. Still not over that disappointment.
*Disclaimer: The PR team paid for my meal and stay. I was not required to write about these experiences and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*