Disney’s Boardwalk would seem to be the perfect place to open your landmark restaurant concept. You are in one of the premier Disney Resorts that also includes Disney Vacation Club, the resort’s boardwalk is pitched as a destination to all Walt Disney World Resort guests much like Downtown Disney is and yet Trattoria al Forno opens knowing full well that the last restaurant with a celebrity chef, Cat Cora attached to it – failed. Can Trattoria al Forno be different?
That is a tall order for Italian food restaurants in America where the popular cuisine has been commoditized in nearly every fashion imaginable. The response should be easy, provide quality. Yet I’ve seen so many restaurants get this simple idea wrong. It isn’t enough just to serve Italian food because well who doesn’t love Italian food. You have to serve great Italian food and so that’s what I was looking for at Trattoria al Forno on its opening night, because that would be the greatest indicator for me of its potential longevity, especially when you consider the number of Italian food restaurants on property and the growing number of fine dining options that will be available at Walt Disney World soon, as Disney Springs edges every day closer to its completion.
Walking up to the restaurant the look remains largely the same as before with a new name of course. The reception area feels familiar because it is but it is also quite understated and simple, still the few touches of flair are quite beautiful. The wood-grained squares below our feet warms the space and makes it feel larger than it is. The chandeliers in this room and in the main dining hall still to come are unique and very beautiful. These glow onto the red-painted ceiling above them again providing a sense of warmth if a bit more provocative. The background of this space is adorned with the restaurant’s all-Italian wine selection that is quite extensive and may prove to be one of the best features of Trattoria. But now that my name has been called its off to dinner.
Inside the design remains simple but it is also elegant. Metal rimmed globe chandeliers hang ornately above the scene that has the open kitchen you remember from Cat Cora’s but yet it feels more cohesive now. I wasn’t given the backstory as I walked in but no worries because since I was seated near the entrance I would hear it over and over again, “welcome to la cucina or the original kitchen,” time and time again as new guests ventured into their evening dining experience. It was the first reason to smile of the evening but it wouldn’t be the last.
My waiter’s name was Travis and for those who know me, I’m not great at remembering names. But I always say I remember the important things. And Travis was absolutely delightful and a great help in deciphering the new menu. The first selection couldn’t have been easier, thin-sliced Italian cured meats with olives. And it was as rewarding and flavorful as you’d expect. It is an Antipasti that serves two but I managed, and one look at the photo and you can see why. Before I decided upon the main course, I wanted something to accompany the night and being that this is supposed to be Italy, well I had to go with the Romantic Red wine flight that included an Italian wine specially bottled and only sold at Walt Disney World. For my main course, I went with Travis’ second favorite suggestion from the menu, Sautéed Shrimp with an anchovy butter sauce with capers over polenta. It was absolutely divine. Like the restaurant’s decor it was simple and not overstated but had well executed flavor. And that is precisely what I was looking for from the very start of my night. But since I was enjoying my time and beginning to ponder whether my last name De Varona was actually of Italian and not Spanish descent, I couldn’t just end it there so I decided it was time for a little dessert and coffee.
Travis was back to his masterful work pitching the Tiramisu though unbeknownst to him, I was settled on that long before he approached the table. But he also offered another favorite of his, Affogato al Caffè that I knew would be a bit of a reach for me since I’m not the most refined coffee drinker in the world but what is life meant for if not exploration. The presentation of the coffee table-side is fantastic as its hook is that it is served over a small scoop of gelato. It was rich and bold and too much for my current palette but I’m glad I ordered it not only to try something new but also because it paired well with the Tiramisu.
The Tiramisu is one of the higher quality iterations I’ve sampled in quite some time. Not one with a sweet tooth I’m as discriminating with dessert as they come and let’s face it most Tiramisu are the frozen not fresh kind at your average Italian restaurant. Ordering one is usually fraught with disappointment because most everyone in their life has tasted a great Tiramisu at least once in their life and that spoils them forever in the world of commoditized Italian cuisine. That happily isn’t the case at Trattoria. While not the best I’ve ever had, it is one of the highest quality versions I’ve had in a long time. In fact it left me wanting more as any good dessert should. Just like the dessert this little piece of Italia had me thinking what I’d try on my next visit.
Trattoria al Forno is the latest attempt at a successful restaurant in the space it occupies at Disney’s Boardwalk but I came away feeling that it has gotten the basics it had to achieve for longevity right. Good to great food, outstanding and welcoming service to go along with the simple but elegant and warm decor. And most of all it had to give you a sense of quality and it delivered. One experience does not get me to a full review, that will take a bit more time but I came away with a grand smile on my face after the evening and I know I wasn’t the only one. From the pizza dough flying in the air as fresh pizzas were being made to the level of detail paid by the staff to get things right down to the backstory for the restaurant, you can’t but help to feel that Trattoria al Forno has potential where the other restaurants had just name. Time shall write that story and we shall cover it here on Da Mouse but what is certain about Trattoria al Forno is that it had a promising and bella notte on Disney’s Boardwalk and that could mean it is on its way to being different.