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Frank’s favorite pasta plate at Il Fornaio in Del Mar is the Pennoni alla Vodka with large ribbed tubes to catch the full flavor of the vodka meat sauce. Photo by Frank Mangio
Columns Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Pasta — The ultimate comfort food

I’m a baseball and pasta fanatic. These two pastimes came together when the Dodgers played their first game last week in their home park in L.A. in front of 4,500 cutouts of fans who paid big bucks to have their images seated at the park. During the game, the announcer spotted the cutout of all-time great Dodgers manager and leading Italian pasta eater Tommy Lasorda and blurted out, “Where’s the pasta?”

Pasta is just about everywhere, mostly in Italian restaurants.

When I was a kid and things were tough in the family, my mother, who came from southern Italy, knew exactly what to do … she cooked a week’s worth of sauce and pasta, and added meat on the first night’s dinner, chicken the next, fish the third night, then filled in the rest of the week with maybe lentils, peas, broccoli and on and on. But the basic ingredient was always a long thin spaghetti now known as “angel hair” with generous amounts of tomato sauce, “extra virgin” olive oil and grated Parma cheese.

When I want to feel and taste the comfort of a freshly made pasta dinner, I make my way to Del Mar Plaza’s Il Fornaio and their homemade style menu of pasta shapes and flavors at value prices. My favorite of the current list is the Pennoni alla Vodka, sopping wet with vodka cream tomato sauce. Looking closer, you will love the bacon and Grana Padano Parmesan imported grated cheese, the best in all of Italy. This is a creamy, tangy, and SUPER take on vodka pasta, with a small cup of vodka, and ¼ cup of olive oil, coconut milk, and a clove of garlic.

A close second for a favorite would be the three-cheese, meat sauce-covered Rigatoni Il Forno (baked rigatoni). Rigatoni is a large tube-shaped pasta with characteristic ridges to capture the meat sauce flavor of southern Italy and Sicily. It is created as a large plated layered casserole, similar to lasagna.

There’s much more to Il Fornaio and I want to bring in our Tech Director/Writer Rico Cassoni, who joined me in seeking the newest premier pasta comfort food.

In the spirit of baseball, I am taking the mound after a perfectly pitched game for the last inning with our team ahead based on Frank’s great start! As Frank said, there is much more to our Il Fornaio visit. Before jumping into more pasta, I thought I would first discuss the ultra-fresh Caprese Tradizionale salad we had with juicy sliced heirloom tomatoes topped with creamy mozzarella and fragrant basil leaves drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. We both started our meals with the caprese and the 2018 Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo that paired well with the acidity in the heirloom tomatoes.

In my pasta world, my go-to is tagliatelle. Tagliatelle pasta features long strands of thicker noodles. Many times, they are a wider noodle as well. Il Fornaio’s tagliatelle features an egg pasta resulting in a goldish yellow color. The dish that I selected was the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Bolognese is a traditional dense meat ragu infused with tomatoes, garlic, onion, along with milk to create density and more tender meat. This delicacy ragu originated in Bologna, Italy. I chose the 2017 Seghesio Angela’s Table Napa Valley Zinfandel to pair the Bolognese and was glad that I did. The depth of Seghesio Zin perfectly complemented the richness, depth, and flavors of the Bolognese.

As always it was a pleasure catching up with our good friend General Manager Vittorio Homberger during our Il Fornaio visit. Homberger said that the restaurant’s biggest goal at the moment “is adhering to guidelines and policies for the safety of their customers and employees during the pandemic.” For those deciding that they want to enjoy Il Fornaio, but not on property, you can take advantage of one of Il Fornaio’s family feasts available via Doordash and Olo mobile apps.

Currently there are three feasts being offered: (1) Full rotisserie chicken cut into four pieces; (2) Four Norwegian salmon filets or (3) Two Il Fornaio pizzas. Each of these main entrees are accompanied with Cesarina salad, penne vodka, roasted Yukon potatoes, seasonal veggies, tiramisu, and fresh baked ciabatta bread.

Thank you, Vittorio and the Il Fornaio Del Mar team for another great dining experience!

Wine Bytes

  • Sal Ercolano’s Seasalt in Del Mar is presenting the iconic Buena Vista Napa Valley Winery in a memorable wine dinner Thursday-Friday, July 30-31, at 6 p.m. Buena Vista was California’s first premium winery. Cost is $70 per person plus tax and gratuity. Call 858-755-7100 for an RSVP to this four-course masterpiece. Seasalt now has weekend brunch on its open patio and outdoor space every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Gianni Buonomo winery in Ocean Beach is open for bottle sales and is offering a super-premium lineup of award-winning wines, including: Double Gold Medal winner 2015 Blaufrankisch, and Gold Medal winners 2015 Maestrale, 2015 Avennio and 2015 Sangiovese. For more details, call 562-458-9477.
  • The San Diego Zoo is planning a Food, Wine & Brew Celebration on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. for VIP, 7:30-10:30 p.m. for general admission. Cost is $100 for general admission, $200 for VIP. More than 160 of SoCal’s best vendors with live entertainers are planned. Check for the latest info at zoofoodandwine.com.

Reach Frank Mangio at [email protected]