The goods: Walking into the revamped Forge on Miami Beach, one can’t help thinking the past year’s economic downturn wasn’t all bad. At least it gave restaurant owner Shareef Malnik the opportunity to close up shop and renovate the sprawling, celeb-friendly icon. He poured $10 million into the nearly year-long redo, replacing the gaudy gothic décor with a whimsical, fairytale-like dream scape where chains of bubbles frame an elevated platform and a massive slab of Indonesian wood serves as the table in a glass-enclosed private dining room. The library is still there – outfitted in mod neo-Victorian furniture – and the wood-paneled wine cellar is intact, boasting the owner’s private collection and a large communal table for private dining.
The wine program is interactive with the addition of the high-tech Enomatic system with 80 bottles available in self-service pours of 1.5, 3 and 5 ounces (some priced as low as $6). Buy a wine card ($15 minimum) and roam the bar and dining room creating a personal tasting odyssey from the various wine machines.
Ambiance: The place still aims to cater to your inner Trump, making you feel pampered and a bit gluttonous, albeit on a slightly smaller budget. And people watching remains the restaurant’s prime form of entertainment: Settling in at the bar, you can survey a parade of well-dressed, coiffed, tanned and tucked patrons, some of them important and some, well … everyone’s a VIP in this city.
The grub: Market-driven American cuisine. Chef Dewey LoSasso (North One 10) nimbly straddles the line between predictable decadence — plenty of lobster, sizable cuts of aged prime beef — and creative flair. The formerly baroque, steakhouse-centric menu has been boosted to 65 items and dotted with chic references to local and seasonal produce and artisanal purveyors (Niman Ranch bacon, Paradise Farms oyster mushrooms). Forge classics like the chopped salad, 16-ounce “Super Steak” and souffle (offered in chocolate, Grand Marnier, “marble,” bourbon-hazelnut, apple cinnamon, s’mores and pistachio) have been revived. With starters and snacks $8-$15, mains $19-$52 and sides $8, your pockets don't need to be quite as deep as they used to to dine here.
Start off in the “Savory Snacks” section with pomegranate-glazed lamb spare ribs and crispy salmon croquettes pooled in a fiery guava hot sauce. Much has been made of the lobster “peanut butter and jelly” sandwich (chilled lobster with crushed peanuts and onion marmalade), but we were more wowed by LoSasso’s less-gimmicky dishes. The complimentary bread basket is filled with caramelized onion focaccia, macadamia nut bread and cinnamon raisin flatbread with honey butter. Pastas like the zesty kale and poached egg spaghetti or the not-as-rich-as-it-sounds three-mushroom risotto with white truffle oil are light enough to serve as shared sides. Mains include snapper steamed “in a bag” with a roasted red pepper and smoked tomato sauce and “Burger and Bordeaux,” a hefty grilled sirloin patty topped with braised short ribs and lobster marmalade and served with addictive truffle fries, pomegranate ketchup and a small chalice of red wine.
Desserts are courtesy of Malka Espinel, the playful confectioner at Fort Lauderdale’s Johnny Vs. Her roster here includes an apple pie sundae of caramelized apples, roasted walnuts and brown butter ice cream layered in a tall sundae glass accompanied by a butterscotch and white chocolate-coated apple and banana “fluffernutters,” mini sandwiches of banana bread stuffed with handmade marshmallows and peanut butter accompanied by a malted milkshake.
Verdict: The Forge is reborn with high-tech wine machines, wallet-friendly prices and whimsical, modern decor.