There's a perception that the vegan diet, which excludes all animal products, is incompatible with fine dining. In this new series, the Beet Reporter aims to see whether Miami's tastiest restaurants are prepared to feed vegans with something more than boring garden salads.
I hadn't been to The Forge on Miami Beach in about five years. The last time I dined there I was eating pescatarian and had tried escargot for the first time under the careful instruction of the most attentive server I'd ever had. So five years later, after the restaurant's renovation and my conversion back to veganism, would we still get along?
I left the menu up to the much celebrated Chef Dewey LoSasso. The first course he sent was the potato canneloni ($12), stuffed with locally grown vegetables, accompanied by a tomato porcini sauce and topped with crispy tofu croutons. This dish was not invented just for me; it had been a special on the menu several times before and will return as an option this week.
The flavors of the dish were incredible. The canneloni itself tasted like a cross between a sauerkraut knish and moo shoo mixed vegetables in a paper thin pancake. Chunks of sun-dried tomato were wedged between layers of Napa cabbage. The tofu "croutons" were fun, little chewy snacks to dip into the thick tomato porcini sauce. And the smokey leaf of charred raddicchio on the side added an interesting flavor departure to the mix.
My dining mate, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, ordered the chopped salad from the regular menu. The finely diced veggies came corralled by cucumber slices, topped with Gorgonzola cheese, and accompanied by plump and juicy olives. She enjoyed it as well.
Our entree was a Moroccan vegetable chili with tandoori and celery root spice in a curry masala sauce ($18). It's also a special this week but can be made any time if requested in advance.
The dish was a veritable cornucopia of vegetables and legumes, including red and beluga lentils, stewed baby spinach, sweet potato, roasted garlic, fingerling potatoes, eggplant, baby zucchini, and juicy heirloom tomato, all swimming in their own juices (not a ton of oil) and just the right amount of spice. What really made all the flavors pop, however, were the pumpkin seeds that were strewn over the chili. It added a contrasting texture and a nutty flavor that brought the other tastes to life.
Finally, for dessert, pastry chef Rodney Barchi crafted a dessert whose description was somewhat surprising: bruleed tomatoes topped with a pomegranate and mango sorbet in a balsamic and strawberry sauce ($10). It's also not yet on the menu but can be made on request.
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I bit into the bruleed tomato and my world changed. I never thought what is essentially a candied vegetable could have me raving all night, but, indeed, it did. The rich flavors of the heirloom tomato were intensified by a hard sugar shell. A simple piece of crunchy flatbread tasted like a strawberry pie crust after soaking up the fruit flavor of the sorbet. I couldn't taste much pomegranate flavor in the mango-dominated mix but it didn't matter. The swirl of balsamic and strawberry sauce and the basil leaves on top added even more dimension to the simple yet complex medley of savory and sweet.
This meal was among the most delicious vegan experiences I've ever had. If you're celebrating with a mixed crowd of vegans and non-vegans, the Forge is clearly equipped to make sure everyone gets their foodie fix. Just let the host know your requirements when you phone in your reservations.
Do you have a restaurant you'd like to see rise to the vegan challenge? Send your suggestions to the Beet Reporter.