Francesco Lulaj, the owner of La Foresta Restaurant and Wine Bar, is a man in motion, he never stays in one place for too long.
“I never stop, I change things all the time,” he says nonchalantly.
Meticulous not only about wine and food but also design, Francesco has invested much of his own sweat equity and passion into creating an amazing ambiance at La Foresta. The food, the wine, and the interior design combined make this a destination restaurant.
“It’s in the woods, here, this place. La Foresta, the forest. We are only a few miles from Madison, but it’s like you are dining somewhere in Tuscany or Napa Valley.”
Francesco discovered this building when dropping his kids off at daycare across the street. Once a Christmas tree store, it had been abandoned and according to Francesco, “was falling down.” With grit, determination and a mere $2 million, he turned the place around and today it is spectacular.
“I added all this reclaimed lumber from Vermont and New Hampshire,” Francesco explains. “This lumber cost more than marble!”
This year he covered all the walls with wallpaper from England that adds a luxurious quality to the place.
And with a new grand piano added to the bar area, they are now offering classical music Thursday through Saturday nights.
With over 6000 square feet of space, diners may never see the same view twice.
“You can eat in here every day and feel like you are in a different restaurant, each room is completely different than the other,” says Francesco.
If you like the personal touch, and prefer privacy, La Foresta’s private party rooms offer a way for people to gather intimately and enjoy that special rehearsal dinner, corporate event or family gathering.
There are many rooms to choose from.
The blue tiled patio is adorned with art by local artists (including his son Aleksander!) and is a great open air all-season space that seats up to 90 people.
“It’s a good amount of space to walk around in and mingle,” says Francesco.
Art adorns all the walls here. Above one doorway hangs a massive 15-foot horse that was created just for La Foresta.
“It took the artist almost two years to create that horse,” says Francesco. “It is made out of wine barrels.”
The Private Wine Room upstairs easily seats 40-45 comfortably. The bins that cover the oak walls showcase their enormous wine collection. Their new wine list features over 1000 varieties.
The bar downstairs, which has an extensive scotch, whiskey and bourbon list along with the wines, works well for cocktail parties. In this wide-open space, you can have up to 60 people or rent half the room for a party of 30.
The VIP Wine Room is La Foresta’s original wine space. The room has gravitas, replete with an elegant wood table and burgundy and gold emblem wallpaper on the ceiling and is temperature controlled. The room seats 18 people at most. But here, you must be a member. And memberships come at a premium.
“You have to really want this room,” says Francesco. “You buy superb wine, we store it for you here. We put a plaque on the wall with your name on it.”
A variety of menus to choose from come with every reservation, lunch [$45 per person] or dinner [starting at $55 per person], where you can enjoy an array of Northern Italian specialties. Party packages include delectable items such as stuffed eggplant, homemade gnocchi di ricotta, or pan seared, herb encrusted Mediterranean sea bass, and homemade tiramisu.
“You don’t have to stick to the party package menus,” says Francesco. “We offer custom menus. I want people to know that we can provide space and service and food and wine and anything you want.”