The Forge Restaurant | Wine Bar by Shareef Malnik

The Forge, Miami Beach, (305) 538-8533

The Luxury Of Miami Can Be Tasted At The Forge – Four Stars

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Revamped Miami Beach restaurant The Forge balances its larger-than-life legacy with
an updated contemporary approach
By Jen Karetnick | Photography by Michael Pisarri | Miami magazine | December 1, 2010

I sort of miss the birds.
Odd as they were, the live songbirds, encased in a glass wall in the ladies’ restroom, were just one of the iconoclastic design elements that made The Forge Miami Restaurant a household name. But as part of a $10 million renovation by designer François Frossard of this second-oldest restaurant in Miami Beach, which re-opened this past summer under the name The Forge Restaurant | Wine Bar, the birds have been released, both literally and metaphorically, from duty. And unlike us nostalgia buffs, owner Shareef Malnik was relieved. “I had to keep a veterinarian on staff,” he told me during a recent outing at the restaurant. “They were always getting sick. The animal rights’ groups were not happy about us keeping them, either.”
No doubt. But then, chef Dewey LoSasso, whose current menu is heavy on the “Principal Meats” (beef, lamb, duck), “Principal Fish and Crustaceans” (stone crab claws and Maine lobster) and “Starts” that range from Wellfleet and Kumamoto oysters on the half shell to Black River Osetra caviar, isn’t looking to win any PETA hearts.
Nor, speaking of hearts, is he about to coax those of the health professionals over to his side. For instance, like other high-end, steakhouse chefs such as Michael Mina, he cooks his meltingly crisp home fries in rendered duck fat. And his brand loyalty to Plugrá butter is evident everywhere, from the whipped, spiced spread that accompanies the focaccia and cinnamon-raisin crisps that start the meal to an innovative side of mild fava beans, moistened with the butter and dotted with nose-stinging wasabi caviar. You’ll even find Plugrá melting on the baked potato under a generous scoop of crème fraîche and diced Niman Ranch bacon—a combination that is incredibly hard to resist.
LoSasso’s dedication to pricey ingredients and top-notch quality is perfectly appropriate, however. His sole concern is pleasing Forge fans, both those from back in the day, when Shareef Malnik’s father and Forge founder Alvin Malnik ran the place, and those who have followed him from his most recent gig as chef-owner of the defunct North One 10. They expect precedent and pedigree: the giant, meaty “U2” shrimp that are so hefty they weigh half-a-pound apiece and tear in the teeth like lobster; the succulent chunks of citrus-cured wild salmon and juicy, crunchy jicama intertwined with baby arugula in a surprisingly light salad; the adorable “oyster po’boy minis” on homemade hoagie rolls swiped with garlic mayo; and an assortment of soufflés that end the meal and include a decadent “s’more” version that features a graham cracker flavor and comes with fluffy marshmallow topping and rich chocolate sauce on the side. (Order soufflés during your meal to avoid a long wait at the end. Your waiter will remind you.)
LoSasso brings his own brand of kitsch to the once-overwrought Forge, where the whimsy used to be only in the décor. Now that the surroundings have been made a true backdrop—albeit a gorgeous one—the food can take the lead. LoSasso lends his clever culinary nature to items like the “lobster, peanut butter and jelly sandwich” appetizer and the “coffee and eggs,” a coffee-crusted rib-eye paired with a miniature goat-cheese frittata. Indeed, take his North One 10 persona, stick it in a larder that has unlimited resources, let him cook in “a real kitchen” (his words)—and you have today’s Forge.
That’s not to say that every item works. I find the chunks of lobster, chopped peanuts and onion marmalade, spread on toasted brioche, at war with each other. Here, the notes from a Thai kitchen might come in handy, where peanuts make better friends with rice-paddy shrimp than oceanic lobster; garden-friendly chives or young scallions are less intrusive than earthy onions; and cilantro acts like a peacekeeper.
On the other hand, the “coffee and eggs” dish is phenomenal, the exterior of the ribeye close to crunchy before giving way to a burst of pink beef. With just the right amount of larding fat, the meat itself is excellent quality, its juices sealed by the coffee, which lends a mild, chargrilled flavor. The golden-brown, goat-cheese frittata is neither too pungent nor too plain—a tasteful and textural triumph. To add a touch of greenery, try the warm, sautéed spinach leaf salad with pancetta and a sunny-side egg on top. It’s an interesting, double-rich version of creamed spinach, so captivating and silky you almost forget the steak.
LoSasso, who was also chef at Tuscan Steak both in Miami and New York, has a talent for cooking meat, whether it’s the 16-ounce, 21-day-aged prime New York strip—the so-called “Oak-Grilled Super Steak”—that Wine Spectator adored before the chef’s tenure, or his new “Burger and Bordeaux” invention. The latter is, as you might suspect, at once a hamburger and at the same time so much more. Dovetailing into the trend of bewigged burgers, this one features lobster marmalade dressing and boneless short ribs, with pomegranate ketchup and truffled French fries on the side—a shot of Bordeaux is included to wash it all down. You can’t taste the lobster under the onslaught of shredded ribs, so aside from the appearance of excess, there’s little reason to include it. That aside, this sandwich, bigger than your mouth unless you’re able to unhinge your jaw like a python, is destined for burger glory.
Though a Bell & Evans roasted half-chicken can prove dry—dip it into the “jus” for moisture—the kitchen’s competence re-emerges with items like the whole fish of the day, frequently some sort of snapper, that is boned tableside and served with a broth of wild mushrooms and miso. While delicious, the flavors can get monotonous, so this is best shared with a tablemate who also has a one-dish sort of meal—say the asparagus risotto (tips of asparagus flavored with grated hard cheeses and topped with jumbo prawns so fresh they taste like they’ve just been fetched out of the bay).
The servers are excellent at recommendations and explanations, judging based on their observations whether to provide the old-time formal service for which the Forge used to be known, or to give guests more contemporary conversation and delivery. As for guiding you through the wine list, many are either trained sommeliers or sommeliers in training, under the watch of Executive Cellarmaster Gino Santangelo. In short, The Forge, with an accomplished chef who runs his kitchen with humor and flair, and waiters with two-sided brains, is still a delightful anomaly in Miami Beach. Even without the birds in the bathroom.

The Forge 
Restaurant | Wine Bar

432 41st St., Miami Beach 305.538.8533.

Rating: ★★★★ (excellent, among the area’s best)
What should I wear? Break out the sequins and suits. The Forge has toned down, but the clientele hasn’t gotten the word.

What’s the best cocktail? If you like classic martinis but don’t want to look too stodgy, get the “Hot and Dirty,” a jalapeño-spiced, olive-flavored, chilled blast of vodka.

What about the wine bar? It’s also entered the new millennium with eight do-it-yourself Enomatic wine systems dispensing 80 bottles of vino, accessed by a Forge “wine card” that allows guests to serve themselves in one-, three- or five-ounce pours.

What’s the best seat in the house? One of the huge wing-back chairs in the corners of the room. And the Library is terrific for post-movie coffee and dessert.

What it costs: Appetizers, $6-$48; main courses, $16-$55; sides, $8; desserts, $9-$12.

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December 10th, 2010 at 8:20 am

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