Big city in Bay Ridge: Little Forno impresses with high-end, low-price cuisine

It’s a little bit of big city in Bay Ridge.

Little Forno – translating to “Little Oven” – opened late this summer at 276 Bay Ridge Avenue, where the beloved “Petit Oven” once stood. Hoping to pay homage to what was once there – while also honing in on the high-end French cuisine its owners have worked to perfect since being professionally trained in the Big Apple – Little Forno has already been on the receiving end of much fanfare.

For owners Chris Salmonese and Stephen Gonzalez, the restaurant’s concept was a no-brainer.

“Our goal is to bring what we’ve learned in the city to Bay Ridge, and make it more approachable and more affordable,” said Salmonese, adding that since opening in late August, the response has been “incredible.”

“We want to stick out,” he said, stressing that, though he and Gonzalez come from Italian families, “We didn’t want to be your average Brooklyn spaghetti-and-meatball restaurant. Sure, we love spaghetti and meatballs, but we want to do something different.”

And different they are. Delicious, too.

To start, this paper sampled some of Little Forno’s most popular appetizers – the Naked Scallop Sausage ($12) and the Foie Gras Torchon ($18). The scallop sausages – topped with crème fraiche, cucumbers, prosciutto and gastrique (sweet and sour sauce) – were as delectable as they were beautiful. A piece of art for your palette, this appetizer was as hearty as it was meaty, despite its small size.

Similarly, the Foie Gras Torchon – a well-known delicacy in French cuisine made of rich, buttery, delicate duck or goose liver – was as good to look at as it was to eat. Paired with strawberry sherry jam, (perfectly crisped) ciabatta and a little balsamic, this dish was to die for.

All in all, the two made for a perfect pre-game for one of Forno’s many captivating main courses, of which we tried four.

First came the Ricotta Agnolotti (a personal favorite of ours that goes for just $18). A more Italian delicacy, this pasta dish – made with small pieces of flattened pasta dough, folded over a filling that melted in our mouths – was topped with spinach and spring onion, making each bite better than the last. We chased that with a sampling of Little Forno’s Orecchiette ($18) – another Italian pasta, the name of which comes from its identifying shape. Topped with English peas, uni (sea urchin) and Grana Padano, this plate was as surprisingly sweet as it was savory. A pasta like none other we’ve ever tried, the Orecchiette is an entrée of Forno’s we highly recommend. (We can’t stop thinking about it.)

Pasta aside, we sampled the chef’s highly recommended Monk Fish ($25) — cooked to perfection, topped with maitake mushrooms, sunchokes, squid ink and onion puree — a dish neither of us had ever tried before, but will happily come back for and order, again and again.

Finally, we were treated to a tasting of the eatery’s Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Torchon ($26). The team at Little Forno admittedly splurges on the chicken they prepare – and for good reason. This chicken dish is out of this world (so much so that we circled the word “chicken” in our notepads). Noticeably fresh and cooked-to-perfection, this entrée (paired with polenta, Tuscan kale and baby carrots) was soft, savory and meaty all at once – a feat we wouldn’t dare to execute at home.

When all was said and done, we had no room for dessert – though Little Forno, of course, offers a sweets menu as unique and appetizing as its lunch and dinner pickings. It goes without saying that we’ll be back.

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