Il Fornaio restaurant may be about as close as you can get to Italy without leaving the United States. From its Old World decor to its imported dry pastas, the establishment’s goal is to offer an authentic experience. (“Il Fornaio” means “The Baker” in Italian.)
The Del Mar location — second-oldest of the 22 in the chain — is rich with deep, dark woods, textured ceilings that appear timeworn, and ocher-colored walls. Ceramic pieces of art and wine bottles artistically dot the main dining room, while timeless pictures of Italy grace the sides. Patrons can observe the preparations of their food by the chef, Sicilian native Roberto Gerbino, in the open exhibition kitchen. Red-and-black stools hug the marble bar at the south end of the area, as an overhead TV telecasts sports and the occasional news program.
Hidden in the back of the restaurant is the private Tuscan Room, which seats up to 24 people and is decorated in a scheme similar to the main dining room. Its French doors open up to a spacious back patio surrounded by foliage.
From the main and cocktail piazzas, guests can gaze out through glass at the ocean while listening to contemporary Italian and American big-band music. The main piazza’s marble tables and Italian-imported chairs are shaded by a large, striped covering supported by columns. The smaller, open-air cocktail piazza is adjacent, with cream-colored umbrellas and heat lamps to provide protection from the elements.
While reservations at Il Fornaio are encouraged, event coordinator Anissa Roberts said piazza seating cannot be guaranteed unless it’s through special arrangement. “But we do our best to honor requests,” she added.
As expected, weekends are typically the busiest, as well as the Del Mar racing season and the winter holidays. Roberts said that lunch is a great time to come in and avoid the crowds.
Across the public patio — decorated with flowers, plants, seating and umbrellas — is Enoteca del Fornaio, the restaurant’s stand-alone, full-service bar. Guests can walk up to the windows and order a beer, glass of wine or a specialty cocktail and sit on the patio, where they can also eat and receive limited service from Il Fornaio. There is some indoor seating at Enoteca, with bar stools and small, round tables. The room features a painted scene of the Italian countryside, wooden wine racks and a TV. The hours of Enoteca vary, depending on the weather, but the majority of the time, it’s open by 1 p.m. and closes at the same time as Il Fornaio.
A number of Il Fornaio’s ingredients are imported from Italy; many items are house-made, such as non-dry pastas, dressings and bread, some of which is sold in Fresh & Easy markets.
Brunch is served at the same time as lunch on weekends and includes items like Omelette Alla Contadina (omelet with red onions, smoked bacon and potatoes, grilled polenta and gorgonzola cheese) and Pizza Papalina (pizza with onions, crispy potatoes, ham and scrambled eggs).