We stepped through the door on a brisk night into the appropriately intimate bistro vibe of Francesca’s Intimo. A lively and well occupied bar stretches across the room directly next to the door. Elaborate ceiling beams, a wood plank floor, and spotlighted sepia toned photography of lined Italian faces all create a very European feel. We were whisked to a table and dove into a perfect run of delicious dishes.
We began from the Anitpasti menu with their Burrata O’ Vesuvio. It arrives picture perfect. A pillow of burrata is surrounded by a ring of crushed Vesuvio tomatoes, a ring of deep green pesto dotted with tiny chunks of garlic, and a perimeter wreath of arugula. The balance of flavors, bright and bitter, tangy and mild, is exceptional. Spread across the crunch of a toasted bread crouton, the result tastes like creamier, hand assembled bruschetta.
The Carpaccio con Rucola delivers a creamy base layer in a very different fashion. A large platter is covered with a blanket of insanely thin slices of raw sirloin, so thin they shred into lace patterns upon the softest touch from a fork. It’s so delicate that it first delivers only a smooth creaminess and the suggestion of meat doesn’t arrive until the aftertaste. The steak is topped with capers, diced tomatoes, thick slices of mushroom, shreds of basil, and thick chips of Parmesan cheese. The full platter is drizzled with olive oil completing the impression of a fresh Italian salad. It’s bright, lemony, and very intense in flavor. This dish would even work without the meat, but the presence of the meat makes it a delicacy.
The first entree we tried had us measuring everything we ate against it for days afterward. The Ravioli ai Spinaci from the Paste menu is simplicity itself. Large, fresh handmade ravioli pasta stuffed with spinach and rich ricotta cheese is doused with a creamy four-cheese sauce with a hint of tomato sauce. The combination of the pasta’s tender texture and the earthy ingredients inside are so deeply comforting. It’s the perfect meeting of fresh, top-quality cuisine and the deeply embedded comfort flavors of cheesy pasta.
For our second entree, we were recommended the Filetto di Manzo con Cipolle Fritte from the Secondi menu. Two petite beef filets prepared to specification are the centerpiece of this dish. They’re delivered on a bed of hand mashed potatoes and wilted spinach swimming in a mushroom wine sauce and topped with a tangle of crispy onion strings. The blend of deep, satisfying flavors is key here. This sauce is the pinnacle of mushrooms’ potential. It’s almost gravy thick and teases an ambrosial decadence out of the tender steak which is textural perfection against the crunch of the onion strings. The sauce is even better spread over the buttery potatoes. Every element of the dish brings something new to the table turning a plate as elemental as meat and potatoes into a discovery.
For dessert, we had to try the Torta Lava. Like everything that came to the table ahead of it, the plating is such that you have to take a minute to admire it before ruining it with a fork. It’s a deeply dark flourless chocolate cake enhanced by the sweetness of a molten chocolate center served warm from the oven. A scoop of mint gelato embedded with coarse chocolate chips practically candies the experience turning this into the most elaborate, upscale delivery of Frango flavors we’ve ever had.
Whether you’re getting a group of friends together or enjoying a night as a couple, Francesca’s Intimo delivers an unforgettable combination of flavors to the table with every plate that arrives. Though we were told the menu changes about every two weeks, either preparations or full menu items, the fact that everything was exceptional means even if your favorite thing disappears from the menu, a new favorite is right around the corner.
Francesca’s Intimo is located at 293 E. Illinois Road in Lake Forest, 847-735-9235, miafrancesca.com.