The new incarnation of Nick Strawhecker’s Blackstone location of Dante, Forno Omaha, features much of what you loved about the former, with a few bold twists.
It took three visits to Forno to get a decent grasp of the focused, yet intricate, menu. Please tell my boss that when he sees all of the receipts I sent him. The menu itself is the one glaring problem with the establishment, as the font is irritatingly difficult to read. It was an off-putting start to what turned into a truly surprising experience. I will say that once you’ve enjoyed more than one of the generously poured cocktails, your menu will become completely useless to you and you’ll have to go Omakase -style and let the server bring you whatever they want.
If you resort to such lengths, you’ll still be in for a treat. From choose-your-own adventure meat-lover or vegetarian charcuterie at half or full size to a glut of enticing wood-fired pizzas, the bevy of options makes it important to understand what you crave before you sit down. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself asking for the optional piggyback ride out of the restaurant when your overindulgence has rendered you unable to walk.
I’m just kidding. That’s not an option on the menu. But someone tell Strawhecker that it ought to be. The fontina fonduta wood-roasted cauliflower is what did me in on that first visit.
A gently charred whole head of cauliflower is brought to the table beside a saucière of molten fontina cheese, which is then lasciviously poured over the cruciferous head to be shared among the table. Check out a video of the dish on our Instagram. The dish would benefit from a texture variant, perhaps a sprinkling of the popped sorghum utilized on other dishes, or a handful of toasted seeds for crunch, but I’d never thought of cauliflower as decadent until I’d sinned with this villainous vegetable.
Many of the items are served family-style, which requires a touch of cooperation and a bit of trust in whoever places the order. Your dishes are served to your table not all at once, but as they are ready. Perhaps it is by this design that I found myself ordering from the cocktail menu as I waited. Just as the establishment caters to those who want the full Italian experience sans carnivorous participation, several fun, delicious non-alcoholic cocktails exist on the menu. These inclusive touches make Forno stand out as a dining option when you are trying to plan around dietary restrictions, picky eating, or poor dining chemistry with your companion.
After careful consideration of the playful drink menu, I landed on Arancia you Thirsty, comprised of vodka, vanilla bean, basil, and orange. My dining companion opted for a fizzy strawberry lemonade.
As we sipped, a plate of mushroom arancini was delivered to the table. Savory and light with a crisp crust, the deep-fried croquettes are served on a rosemary tonnato with a sprinkling of grated horseradish.
Other starters that left an excellent taste in our mouths included a surprising kale salad. I say surprising because kale is one of the few millennial fads that I have been loath to follow. Kale is the worst, and I maintain that stance. However, the treatment in this application was pleasantly palatable. Wood-roasted lemon brings out the brightness in the bitter dish, while the addition of fennel and toasted sorghum create a strangely crave-inducing texture.
A dish of mushroom ragu on fusilli landed itself on the “everything in between” portion of the menu. I imagine coming back just for this dish in the fall, maybe enjoying it hot on the small patio with a cool breeze. The creaminess comes compliments of the cashew, making this hearty dish both delicious and vegan.
Main dishes are almost an afterthought. Calling back to the earlier point, if you don’t know what you want before you sit down, the tempting starter courses may be enough to send you on your way before you’ve had the chance to peruse the equally sinful main courses.
As with the rest of the menu, there are options to make this the destination for anyone in the mood for a delicious meal. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free choices are available across the board, and each is treated with equal creativity and respect.
For your carnivorous inclinations, you’ll need to look no further than the balsamic sticky ribs. Sweet, well-seasoned, and served on braised cipollini and mushrooms, each bite is a satisfying meal you just can’t get enough of.
Both the beer-braised pork jowl and the river salmon plated with a delicate risotto and bok choy serve as prime examples of the patience that the chef is willing to exercise to serve a truly exceptional dish.
Several vegan and vegetarian pasta options entice you to order opposing dishes and share, and a dessert menu looms nearly as large as the rest of the menu on its own.
Tigelle Me About it
One of the great privileges of working with so many chefs and restaurant owners is the inside look at what they’re most proud of and their reasons for rallying behind a signature dish. In the case of Forno, an imported Italian Tigelle press serves as the pièce de résistance.
A circular bread, the approximate size and texture of a large English muffin, is stamped with the press, resulting in a toasted floral print. These are then employed as sandwich bread or served alongside the meat and cheese charcuterie. To close your eyes and listen to Forno’s Justin Gilmore tell the story of the Tigelle press, you’d imagine you were being told the story of the birth of a favorite child.
Use the pressed bread to explore the many condiments, textures, and surprises that are served throughout your meal. Each component of every dish is seasoned, toasted, popped, sauced, or fired to coax maximum flavor. While Dante has always been a step above your standard pizza parlor, the consideration and thoughtfulness of Forno’s dishes are an element of surprise in themselves. Set aside a Blackstone stroll or a long lunch for your own Italian experience.
11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. &
4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. &
4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.