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The Forge is as famous as any South Florida restaurant not named Joe's Stone Crab. It debuted in 1969, and as the fortunes of Miami Beach have shifted like sand over the decades, so too has the reputation of this iconic steak house. By the time it closed its doors for a $10 million renovation last year, the Forge's museum-like mahogany interior seemed antiquated — and its clientele wasn't getting any younger either.
The new Forge looks quite different. The library room, for instance, appears as though it's been soaked in a gargantuan vat of bleach; it still has the same book-lined shelves and stained-glass windows, but now they jump out from a white palette rather than melt into a musty, old brown one. The remaining dining rooms have been reconfigured, and while some bricks, wood, and chandeliers remain, the entire space is lightened and brightened to invigorating effect.
If the revamped décor doesn't convince you that things have changed, maybe the menu's quinoa pancake with fig marmalade will. Or a grilled shrimp waffle with caviar and basil butter sauce. Or perhaps the lack of creamed spinach and pommes Lyonnaise will snap you out of your nostalgic steak-house reverie. In place of those classics are sautéed spinach salad with a fried egg and pancetta, and moist cubes of duck-fat home fries delectably flecked with sautéed onions and meaty bits of duck confit. (And as an aside on sides, don't miss the fava beans sautéed with wasabi caviar and Plugrá butter.)
Owner Shareef Malnik made it clear the Forge would forgo steak-house status when he hired Dewey LoSasso as reopening executive chef. LoSasso has long been on the shortlist of top local toques, from helming Lincoln Road's Foundlings Club way back when, to Tuscan Steak, to more recently his own North One 10 restaurant. He has always been a highly creative chef with a penchant for cleanly layering numerous ingredients and tastes onto each plate.
Take, for example, a salad composed of local tomatoes stacked with Bermuda Triangle goat cheese brûlée, two thin onion rings, meaty slices of prosciutto di Parma, and a vinaigrette made from Château Margaux wine. That's a mouthful of complementary flavors (and one delicious dressing), although the components would have melded better if the tomatoes, cheese, and onion rings had not been chilled. Crisply refreshing standards, such as the chopped salad and iceberg wedge, are still crowd pleasers.
The aforementioned shrimp waffle is one of a dozen "starts," as opposed to that quinoa stack, which is listed under "savory snacks." It's not clear why chilled roasted beets are a snack while a cheese plate for two is deemed a start, but the overall notion is that items such as an oyster po'boy or lobster peanut butter and jelly are more suitable as something to munch with your drink, as opposed to an introductory course to a substantial entrée.
Or at least I'm guessing that's the case based on the hefty nature of those two sandwiches. The po'boy was plump with crisply fried oysters plunked into a mini hoagie roll spread with potent roast garlic mayonnaise. A crunchy clump of lemony jícama salad was a sassy side. The lobster peanut butter and jelly sandwich jolted to signature status right from the beginning; curiosity no doubt plays a role in the large number of diners ordering it (that was certainly my impetus). Four triangular sandwich quarters of toasted, crustless brioche are filled with pieces of poached lobster between a thin veneer of sweet, caramelized onion marmalade and a fairly thick spread of coarsely ground, chili-spiced peanut butter. If this dish works at all, it would be as a stand-alone bite to down with a drink, but for my money, it does not work at all (and that money, incidentally, is $17); peanut butter obliterates the delicate crustacean. LoSasso is a chef who rarely errs on the side of too little flavor.
Steak house or not, the six cuts of proffered beef remain the most sought-after entrées. None is more renowned than the Super Steak: a 16-ounce, 21-day-aged, oak-grilled Prime New York strip. None is more expensive either, although an 18-ounce bone-in filet mignon matches the $55 price.
I went instead with the cheapskate steak (my term, not theirs): a modest 12-ounce Angus New York strip for $29. The slender slab of meat, cooked to a proper medium-rare, touted a tender texture and beefy taste barely bold enough to compete with an intensely smoky infusion of oak flavor. Five petite white porcelain cubes alongside the steak were filled respectively with tangy béarnaise; thick, house-made Worcestershire; sweet, grainy mustard sauce; coarse black pepper; and smoked salt. Applying the last to up the smoke ante would be like tossing a match into a fire to fuel the flame.
If you don't care much for oak notes, the coffee-crusted rib eye (another Forge standard) is pan-seared and comes with a goat cheese frittata (thus called "coffee and eggs"). And two delectable, double-cut Colorado lamb chops proved a lot less smoky than the steak, probably because each was twice as thick. One chop, cooked to the requested medium-rare, came topped with a mildly piquant pear chutney tinged with ginger and vanilla; the other, overcooked to medium, was capped with mandarin orange segments and fresh mint leaves. Two quinoa blinis and a scattering of smoky plum salt completed the dish.
A whole spice-rubbed duck all but burst with juicy flavor, and shallot-spotted sangria sauce on the side only enhanced the pleasure — so luscious that even extremely disappointing accompaniments couldn't quite sabotage it. Alongside the bird were supposed to be "warm grits and grilled apple." The latter was half of a thin, dried slice sporting dark black grill marks. The grits were overpowered by unadvertised cheddar cheese and coagulated into a solid mass.
Local mutton snapper stood out as the most tantalizing of the half-dozen seafood offerings. Prepared papillote-style, it is presented in a steamy plastic bag and scissored open at the table. Although slightly overcooked, the fish flaunted a deeply herbed aroma and sweet crown of roasted peppers. Alongside, a gooseneck of assertively smoky tomato sauce contained two peeled white grapes and a filleted white anchovy. Other selections from the sea are Maine lobster, crab/lobster salad, fish du jour, grilled salmon, and black-and-white sesame-crusted tuna.
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The Forge's Enomatic wine-by-the-glass system consists of ten self-service machines that allow customers to purchase one-, three-, or five-ounce pours from a choice of 80 bottles from the restaurant's vaunted cellar collection. Information about each wine can be gleaned via a touchscreen, and if you still can't decide, I assume you can just call over a holographic sommelier.
Malnik has always provided strong service, and the veritable army of staff here gets the job done well. Yet on one visit, things were sloppy, from the table not getting wiped between courses to our being presented, with some fanfare, a bottle of wine we didn't order.
Desserts are designed by Malka Espinel, who for years excelled as Johnny Vinczencz's pastry chef. We loved a tart of creamy lemon curd with a mild fennel infusion paired with toasted almond gelato and fresh biscotti. On the other end of the scale, there's a Fluffernutter dessert — which arguably makes the Forge the only posh restaurant in the world where one can both begin and end a meal with a course based on the peanut butter sandwich.
We skipped the 'nutter but not the fluff by sampling a s'more soufflé that arrived sprinkled with graham cracker crumbs; the waiter then poked a hole in the center and spooned in marshmallow sauce. The deep, high-quality chocolate taste delighted, but the center was overbaked. This dessert is a blend of something old (soufflé), something new (marshmallow sauce poured in), something borrowed (concept of s'more), and something blue (how we felt upon discovering the lack of moistness). The restaurant likewise features some things old, new, borrowed (a couple of tricks from North One 10), and — well — let's say still shaky on execution. Yet there is no denying the Forge is back, and it matters once again.