Helped by a multimillion-dollar renovation, chef Dewey LoSasso has transformed the Forge into a world-class restaurant with an innovative menu and edgy flavor. The veteran toque has worked at the Foundlings Club, Tuscan Steak, and, most recently, his own eatery, North 110. Below, LoSasso's thoughts on the Forge 2.0.
Dewey LoSasso: It wasn't about re-creating the menu. It was about doing a whole new menu. I spent 12 weeks doing research on the old menu. [Owner] Shareef [Malnik] was very open to change. Shareef told me to write a menu. He said to look at local stuff. We did keep a few old menu items, but it was more about combining the new and old menu items in a way that made sense. Like the Super Steak got best steak in the country by Wine Spectator magazine. Why would you not keep it? Why would you not keep a guy who has been baking bread here for 30 years? I love the fact that the same guy has been making the macadamia nut roll for so long. It was like a Secret Service-FBI-espionage mission to get the recipe.
How collaborative was it between you and Shareef?
It was pretty collaborative. We did a series of 16 different tastings. We also did it with the staff, including Joe Day and the sous chefs. There were some things that were a hit right away, like the snapper in the bag. We also added dishes for vegetarians, such as the cheese plate, red lentils, and pasta dishes.
The last time I spoke to Shareef, he emphasized that the Forge 2.0 is not a steak house.
When we first opened, people ordered the steak. But as people came back, they started ordering fish. It's American progressive with a local tinge. I've always believed in farm-to-table cooking. I have a guy from the Redland who brings me lilia onions and baby carrots. The lilia onions are like ramps. We pickle them or sauté them.
What else are you sourcing locally?
Many of the vegetables are local. And, of course, the fish. I talk to the fish guys at 1 in the morning. We have trigger fish from the Keys. We've tried some farmed fish, like striped bass from the Carolinas. But for the most part, we keep the fish local.
Speaking of fish, are you concerned about the Gulf oil spill?
Yes. It has the possibility of the impact of five Hurricane Andrews. It could be devastating. But we don't buy anything from the Gulf. We buy from the Keys. The snapper in the bag is local. The whole fish is a local whole fish. It could be a strawberry grouper or yellowtail snapper. When we first opened, I did branzino from the Mediterranean. After the first week, we decided to keep it local.
How did you decide which classic dishes to keep?
You have to be respectful to the customers of the Forge. The chopped salad is timeless. But we added the ability for diners to order tuna tartare or beef tataki to make it an entrée salad. Going into the Florida climate in the summer, you want a salad entrée. When I looked at the old menus from the '70s and '80s, there were some entrée salads. I like that in the summer. The soufflé is also a classic dish. What restaurants do soufflés well? The soufflé recipe here is spotless. The Super Steak is also an original dish, although we changed the plating of it.
Has there been an outcry about some missing dishes?
Not from the customers, but from the staff. A good example would be Blacksmith Pie. We've had a few people ask for it, but there was a presumption that a lot of people were going to ask for it. But Malka Espinel, who is an amazing pastry chef, revamped the whole dessert menu. One of the original staff members is making soufflés, and he's taught the new people.
What have been the most popular new menu items?
The lobster peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which people love or hate. Ninety percent of the people love it. It's not just because I made it. The bread is toasted challah bread from the Kosher bakery up the street. Initially, we were using toasted brioche, but why wouldn't we use challah bread from this neighborhood? There is a roasted purée of unsalted peanuts with Asian flavors. The "jelly" is an onion marmalade. And then we have diced fresh lobster. It's become the number one seller in the appetizers. People are requesting it for hors d'oeuvres. You can order it at the bar. It's the ultimate mini-sandwich.
The burger also seems to be getting rave reviews.
Yes. The Niman Ranch, organic beef burger is topped with boneless short ribs and lobster. It has a shot of wine, which was Shareef's idea. We thought it was a good play on words to have a burger and Bordeaux.
What are some other hot dishes?
Definitely the snapper in the bag. We are using this fata paper, which is a high-temperature cooking foil, but it's clear like plastic. It's a variation of parchment paper from France. We add some mushrooms, tomatoes, smoked sea salt, and basil to the snapper. The best part is when you cut it at the table, the aroma of the fresh herbs is wonderful. We serve it with a smoked tomato/roasted red pepper sauce with white anchovies. There's kind of a Spanish feel to the sauce. The other big seller is the mushroom risotto, which has been following me since Tuscan Steak. I make a 24-hour mushroom stock, and the liquid that we use is vegetarian. There's no chicken stock. If someone is vegan, we just take out the dairy.
There seems to be a lot of kale on the menu.
Yes. The kale salad is a recipe I got from Al Malnik. I went up to his house, spent some time in his kitchen, and got the recipe for the kale salad. It is raw kale, which is cooked a little bit from the acid by the lemon juice we add. It has grated Parmesan cheese, currants, olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts. The kale on the spaghetti has garlic, Parmesan, and a poached egg on top. I love kale and pasta together.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview, in which Dewey discusses the Mango Gang, where he eats at 1 o'clock in the morning, and the Forge's impressive wine list.