July 28, 2008 | BITE: My Journal

Forge: Thanks Dad, I’ll Do It Myself

 Forge has rustic charm with bare brick, low light and fat candles in iron lanterns. Photo: Steven Richter
 Forge has rustic charm with bare brick, low light and fat candles in iron lanterns. Photo: Steven Richter

        All in black, Marc Forgione stands feet wide apart…rather Ninja-like, but maybe trying to look a tad taller, in his own shoes at last.

        “I know your dad,” says our companion on this second visit to Forge, the young chef’s first personal venture (with partner Christopher Blumlo) after an eye-opening round at Michel Guérard’s three star complex in the southwest of France and stints with Patricia Yeo and Laurent Tourondel (most recently as corporate chef,  BLT Restaurant Group).

        “Everyone knows my dad,” Marc responds, with vexed smile and sigh of resignation.

Fettucine carbonara for the new age has a pedigreed egg and name brand bacon.  Photo: Steven Richter

        While Larry Forgione – pioneer elder in New York’s dining revolution – has gone off to launch yet another new life for An American Place at Wynn’s in Las Vegas, his 29-year-old scion is seeking to more or less step out of  pop’s shadow with delicious
Exquisite scallops exquisitely cooked with Stan's corn from the Greenmarket.  Photo: Steven Richter
variations on the kind of bold and appealing dishes he grew up with.  Even on Forge’s cautiously abbreviated menu, it’s a challenge to choose from old favorites, updated for flavor impact: Fettucini carbonara with Niman Ranch bacon and a pedigreed farm egg glowing orange on top. Voluptuously rare diver scallops with cockles and “Stan’s corn” (Stan from Union Square Greenmarket, that is).  Roast chicken with heirloom tomato panzanella and summer savory. Not a molecular burp anywhere.  Just real food most food-obsessed New Yorkers will want to eat, from a lineup evolving with summer’s crops.

        The place is packed but limping on my first visit in the days just after opening, with air conditioning on the bum and the chef himself nowhere to be seen -- in the hospital on opening day with an acute intestinal infection as it turned out. The kitchen is understandably slow and in the oppressive heat our companions grow increasingly cranky. Instead of focusing on the rustic charm of recycled wood, discreet low light on bare brick walls, an ancient stove that actually works, and the romance of thick candles in lanterns overhead, all they can see is the sadness of too few objects on the barn-wood shelves behind our table in the exaggerated dim.

        But dark as it is, there is light at least on our table and those against the wall.  I can read the tiny menu script on beige paper without my handy little key ring light. That’s a definite plus. Flashbulbs pop all around the room. Is everyone in the house a food blogger? And cranky as we are, we are loving most of this food, from the first seductive gesture – glossy soft potato rolls served warm with a small dish of caramelized onion butter. They disappear quickly and are never replaced. Oversight or deliberate economy?  Luscious kampachi sashimi sits in a spoon on the edge of a bowl with lively kampachi tartare brightened by avocado and radish with a dot of American caviar. Well of course, as McDonald’s grads, we’re all curious about Forgione’s riff on chicken nuggets: Five delicious little meat balls with rémoulade, overpriced I’d say, at $14.  Seven very tiny sheep’s milk ricotta agnolotti at $14, though perfectly fine, strike me as chintzy at $2 each.  And $34 for three small nubbins of lamb with coco beans, morels and pencil asparagus makes me wonder if this is how it’s going to be as restaurants struggle with soaring food costs.  Still, I note that the lamb is good and so is the honey-glazed duck breast sliced into thick, meaty chunks.

Juicy pork leg for two with big shards of super crisp skin.  Photo: Steven Richter

        We’re back a few weeks later. Forgione is too, alert not just to a critic in the house – two when you count GQ’s Alan Richman at the adjacent table - but also to the pair of veteran chefs who’ve joined me and the Road Food Warrior tonight.  I ask them not to talk about the food. “I don’t want to know what you think,” I say. “It isn’t fair to Marc.”

        So I haven’t a clue what chefs Todd English and Sam Hazen (not yet ready to spill the
A trio of sides for the pig. Photo: Steven Richter
details of their new partnership) thought of dinner. Richman is discreet too, except he can’t resist passing us one of his little potato bread rolls that he has slathered with that caramelized onion butter and stuffed with roast pork.  Shades of Momofuku, but not so fatty and, actually better. As for me, I’m impressed again with that big bowl of juicy suckling pig, a dish for two to share with a trio of sides: mustard crushed fingerlings, sugar snap peas and mushrooms.  There’s a fresh round of warmed rolls tonight – “always with the pig,” the chef says - and instead of two big shards of ultra crisp pork skin leaning against the side of the bowl (as last time), we have four crunchy shards now.  (Forgione is definitely on our case). And aside from the fact that my guy bristles a bit when his boneless rib eye comes from the kitchen already sliced for him, the steak is meaty and rare with rivulets of chimichurri to drag it through as an option.

        Pastry chef Jenny McCoy (a lively transplant from Emeril’s Delmonico’s in New Orleans) does lush goat cheese panna cotta on spiced shortbread cookie with blueberry compote and splendid “local” strawberry sorbet in lemon verbena consommé. Her rustic berry pie with sensational crème fraîche ice cream, could be bigger. Though small makes more sense in her “taste of American classics,” a trio of Forgione family favorites: butterscotch pudding, Granny Lu’s chocolate cake and a root beer float on ginger ice cream, the foam that beat Ferran Adria to the ritual fluff.  Her cookies make a winning farewell.

Boneless rib eye, rare and meaty, with Vidalia onions is a hit at our table.  Photo: Steven Richter

        I’m not sure this stretch of Reade Street will embrace the price of eating at Forge, good as it can be, given starters mostly $14 to $18, and entrees $26 to $34. With a couple of cocktails and two or three glasses of wine, tax and tip, we manage to spend $183 dollars for two one evening and over $200 on our second visit. For people like us who eat out every night, that makes it a splurge, not an easy fall-in.  I’m fond of Papa Forgione (after all these years, he feels like family to me) and I feel protective toward the son, so I’ll hope the big spenders prove me wrong.

134 Reade Street between Greenwich and Hudson. 212 941 9401.


Gather Persimmon While Ye May

 These are the dishes that started dinnner at Persimmon on a high.  Photo: Steven Richter

        Our hardy band of professional and amateur foodies had a great evening at Persimmon gossiping with rival restaurant critics and their entourages at the long communal table. We thrust and parried, and communed over Korean classics twisted and perhaps too twisted (or not twisted enough). I posted a Short Order about the evening and a handful of readers have asked why I failed to comment on dinner beyond a pained dig at the unpadded backless stools.

Sauteed baby octopus with baby bok choy, pear juice and hot pepper.  Photo: Steven Richter

        The truth is, I’ve never seen my role as stomping out small mom and pop shops that I find unfulfilling…and never early on or from just one visit.  It’s the ballyhooed and overblown, where the concept or the kitchen seems hopeless, that beg to be exposed.  There is so much charm and energy, not to mention the movie-star good looks of chef-owner Youngsun Lee, who gave up a career in graphics for cooking school. He bounds out of the glassed-in kitchen behind a lone waitress to deliver an armload of bowls in his $37 five course tasting that changes every week.  Squash blossoms stuffed with scallop, tofu and garlic honey miso are a promising first taste, along with rare beef slices on melon sauce, eggplant with tofu dressing, and fluke sashimi with scallion and Korean red pepper sauce.  Torrid after-blasts, kimchi tang and the appeal of new flavors are welcome in the sauté of baby octopus and a toss of sweet potato noodles.  I even like strawberry kimchi paired with half moons of very ordinary scallops that a savvy food friend immediately dubs “stupid food.”

        The kitchen seems to be straining to deliver as a few newcomers arrive. Is that some unresolved drama behind glass?  “The waitress seems to be crying,” observes my screenwriter friend. And then it’s downhill.  Mushy, unmemorable stews as the main course.  Overcooked Cornish hen in a sadly bland, ginseng chicken soup. And a bowl of pale broth three of our group insist is the finger bowl.

        “Fuyu is one species of persimmon,” one of my dining-out pals emails the next day.  “Pronounce that phooey,” he says.

        When so much hope and heart are involved, I wish for the best. And the menu does change every week.  But you’ll get the news from some other quarter.  I’m in search of new thrills, braving tall stools, hoping I can get up from too-low padded tuffets, screaming above the din in search of the next great mouthful.

277 East 10th Street between First and Avenue A.  212 277 9080


On the Texas Cookie Trail


        Of course I was willing to taste Alexandra’s Cookie Dreams. “Send them,” I said.  I love an excuse to eat too many cookies.  And besides, Alexandra Bruskoff is a New Yorker, transplanted to Austin, Texas, and her father is a friend. To share the crumbles and comment, I enlist my brother Jim, one of the most serious cookie-fiends I know.  He has Petrossian express cookies to him in Chicago every month at ridiculous expense.

        Interestingly, Jim and I agree: We love “The All Nighter” – chocolate espresso with an after-hit of cayenne – and “The New York Cowgirl” – fudgey truffle-like dough with a touch of chili powder and a little crunch of pretzel.  Much to my surprise (since I usually dread white chocolate), I’m a fan of a vanilla cookie that combines that much abused sweet with dried cranberry and salty walnuts.

        Ms. Bruskoff’s cookies are human-sized, just thick enough, crisp on the outside, soft and chunky within, a daring innovation in an era of quarter-pound monsters.  They come two to a package with charming graphics, in boxes and tins, starting at 6 for $10 on AlexandraScookiedreams.com. A former teacher, Alexandra has promised to donate a percentage of profits to Austin and NYC schools through DonorsChoose.org.



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