Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday February 13, 2003
A Hit

Hip Fort Worth has already discovered the town’s latest great Italian restaurant, Fortuna.



5837 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. 817-737-4471. 11am-10pm daily. All major credit cards except Discover are accepted.

t’s easy to zip right by Fortuna Italian Restaurant after dark. Set back off Camp Bowie in a small shopping strip where Curzon and Littlepage crisscross the boulevard, the outside lighting is so discreet it doesn’t catch the eye.

Inside, however, is a cheery dining area decorated with murals of Italy — Venice to the left, the bay of Naples straight ahead, and a collage of Roman impressions to the right, with Remus and Romulus happily suckling their she-wolf in the middle. Three rows of tables — alternating checked covers of green and white, and red and white — march in step.

Fort Worth’s trendy West Siders dine from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on weeknights; when my two companions and I arrived at Fortuna at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday we got the last table. The place is only weeks old and already discovered — as well it should be, with an interesting menu, well-prepared food, and moderate prices.

The thrust of food choices goes two ways. A variety of pastas in seafood, chicken, or veal combinations, with appropriate appetizers and desserts, is one possibility; and stromboli, calzones, or pizza dishes are available for the less calorie-conscious.

There are also specials: In addition to ordering the lasagna and ravioli stuffed with lobster from the regular menu, my guests and I went for the evening’s treat — baked trout served in a lemon, butter, and wine sauce, seasoned with capers. As we waited, the house bread arrived, and it was truly unusual. It was made of a dough that was more pastry than bread and looked like stuck-together sticky buns topped with garlic cheese instead of icing. Eating the things was like chewing white asparagus — the harder you work, the bigger they seem to get. We switched to a traditional small loaf scored and toasted with melted provolone and garlic for an extra couple bucks. Much better.

The wine list, with four pages of bottles ranging in price from $18 to $120, seemed extensive for such a small restaurant — but we’re not complaining. A glass of the house Chianti at $6.50 was more than decent — smooth, full bodied with a woody character, and no acidic aftertaste. Drinking at the table is a must, after all: There is no bar.

For appetizers, we started with portobello mushrooms stuffed with crab and shrimp paste, floating in a pond of lobster bisque-like sauce — ambrosia. The large, warm mushrooms were soft and meaty, and formed a cozy bed for the gently seasoned shellfish and yummy sauce. They did take awhile getting to the table. One waitperson was out sick, we discovered, and the restaurant had just gone from empty to full in five minutes. The staff hustled to make things work, but it took time for the kitchen to catch up.

The delay didn’t seem to affect the quality of preparation. The fish arrived firm and flaky, the taste subtly enhanced by the delicate wine sauce with its piquant caper and lemon overtones. It was served with a rack of gently steamed green asparagus, which was tender and crunchy without a trace of strings or sogginess. Asked how he managed such delicacy, owner/chef Ray Jumere said he braised the vegetables a few seconds after steaming. What a difference the extra step makes.

The lasagna, prepared northern-Italian style, is made up of the usual strips of pasta between layers of cheese and meat, in a bright, tangy tomato sauce, which includes bits of the fruit, rather than the dark, mustier sauce of the Naples area. It tasted homemade, fresh, and lively to the tongue and arrived at the table piping hot, not to say incendiary. The ravioli were equally tasty, although the pasta was thick at the edges, overpowering the subtle shellfish filling. The lobster-flavored sauce in which they swam appeared to be the same that graced the mushrooms.

Other trips to the restaurant on other nights included orders of antipasti, which don’t seem to follow any formula. The bed of crisp lettuce and tomato is the same, but the garnish may be black or green olives along with a pepper, and the meat may be sliced sausage or fresh ham with sliced or cubed provolone. Once, the fresh ham arrived as tubes stuffed with provolone and cut into bite-sized pieces that looked like stuffed olives. They’re all good, but don’t look for the same thing twice.

Desserts are your basic Italian fantasies cheaply priced. Tiramisu is this writer’s favorite. Ladyfingers soaked in flavored liqueur and covered with whipped cream and chocolate sauce are hard to resist. The house cannoli, hard vanilla-flavored sauce stuffed in a crisp pastry shell, is another winner, but you may feel you need an insulin shot before leaving the table.

Jumere, by the way, also owns the Portobello restaurant in Colleyville, with his brother Sam Jumere, and used to own the popular Bistro Portobello in North Dallas. Next door to the Camp Bowie location, workers are renovating a space that will become an additional seating area, scheduled to be finished later this month.

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