April 11, 2011 | BITE: My Journal
Marc Forgione: It’s in the DNA

Small ceramic spoons deliver high concept tastes, Photo: Steven Richter
Small ceramic spoons deliver high concept tastes. Photo: Steven Richter

       Thursday night fever at Marc Forgione. Full house of swagger and noisy brio at the bar. We are sheltered from the riotous hullabaloo in the dining room, with its dark reclaimed wood and romantic dim, sharing tartare of sparkling fresh hiramasa, yellowtail kingfish from Australian farms.  Sustainable, of course, because Marc Forgione wouldn’t have it any other way. He will have checked out the hiramasa source with seafood activist Rick Moonen.

Outsize plates make this portion of hiramasa tartare seem smaller. Photo: Steven Richter

        There is old fashioned chef DNA here, not only because he is Larry Forgione’s son and grew up in restaurant kitchens, but in his respect for another era. He was a rebellious uncommitted teenager when he went off for an 18 month stint in the kitchen of France’s greatest three star chef, Michel Guérard, in Eugenie. The devotion to metier and perfection turned his head around. “That is when I decided I would be a chef,” he recalls. And perhaps that’s why, after the pressure and hoopla of winning “Next Iron Chef,” these days you’ll usually find him in his own kitchen.

White asparagus with garlic croutons, whipped brie, tangerine juice vinaigrette. Photo: Steven Richter

       An island of hiramasa bits with an almost melting silken strata of ripe avocado seems simple enough, but add to that an explosion of nuttiness and citrus tang and the saltiness of Saratoga chips in my mouth. He can’t resist pulling off an Adria trick or two. All the elements of a Caesar salad sit in a capsule of parmesan cream dotted with bits of white anchovy, a chiffonade of romaine and some black olive salt on a ceramic spoon in molecular wizardry. Beside it, in another spoon, a chip and dip - “I want it to be familiar.” It almost is - sour cream and crème fraiche, with chive, a taste of childhood, smartly refined.

        Slanted cuts of crisp white asparagus keep good company, too, with crunchy garlic croutons in a vinaigrette of tangerine juice emulsified with bacon fat and a touch of fennel oil, topped with fried tarragon on an oval of whipped brie.  A gift from the kitchen.

Rough, rustic, dark and romantic by candlelight. Photo: Steven Richter

        It’s a world away from my first visit in June 2008, when Forge had just opened and the Forge in Miami had not yet insisted the place be renamed.  The chef was in the hospital. The air conditioning was on the blink. The shelves, now so crammed with flea market artifacts, were almost bare. The room has softened and feels cozy. The chef has grown into his inheritance. The staff reflects his confidence. If our server, the sturdy, ever-so-slightly irreverent Marian, is a good example, the dining room squad is well-briefed and good-natured without being chummy.

Veal tortellini are marvelous, but..just four little packages? Photo: Steven Richter

        Having chosen the tortellini de avanzi starter as an entrée, the Road Food Warrior seems dashed to see there are just four little packages on a small plate, knowing he will have to share them with the rest of us. (By the way, avanzi is not a region or town, it’s Italian for leftovers.) Granted, the pasta itself is impressively delicate and the veal-mushroom farce inside has the heady perfume of truffled balsamic.

Maine monkfish with red Thai curry coconut rice and mint pesto. Photo: Steven Richter

        But he gets an ample sampling of the carefully cooked Maine monkfish, riding like an emperor on the plate framed with Satur Farms carrots – not cooked quite enough for my taste, but exactly the way Steven prefers them. Red Thai curry coconut rice and mint pesto add savory punch, and for some, too much salt.

Wrapped in blood sausage and poached, pork tenderloin stays juicy. Photo: Steven Richter

        I never can resist blood sausage, so of course I hold out for the pork tenderloin with boudin noir. Forgione’s original idea of stuffing the meat didn’t work, he tells me the next day, so he wraps the sausage around the loin instead and poaches it. That makes the pork moister too. The meat is served sliced on classic pommes purée with apple and bacon chutney and a thatch of deep-fired leek strings on top.

Burned butter gives a deliberate licorice taste to the special duck. Photo: Steven Richter

        There are slim stalks of white asparagus buried in a parsley root and parsnip purée under the evening’s special duck. The butter is burned, he explains, to give it a licorice taste. The last of our butter-glazed potato rolls come in handy for mopping up.

Order “Tattoos and Strawberries.” Get wonderful little ice cream cones. Photo: Steven Richter

        Ashton Warren’s sweet finale reflects the chef’s idea that desserts should be fun and reminiscent of home. “Banana Betty Souffle” is a riff on one of his father’s signatures. “Tattoos and Strawberries,” as it says on the menu, are inscrutable, neither tattoos nor strawberries, but rather five miniature ice cream cones with flavors that change every day.  If you sample - almond French toast, s’mores, chocolate covered potato chip, mint pistachio, and peanut butter brownie – you won’t want to leave a drop melting away.

        Not on the menu, but always available, are the evocative chocolate chip cookies, warm from the oven, with a glass of milk alongside, sent by the chef tonight since we have only ordered the lemon meringue “pie” sundae. It’s unpleasantly doughy.  The only disappointment.

        Some portions may seem a bit small. Maybe the prices - appetizers as high as $18, entrées $27 to $35 - will seem high for what might look like just another noisy bar scene on Reade Street to passersby. Our guests tonight don’t seem to think so. They’re sending friends. And if we return on a Sunday there’s a $44 three-course prix fixe.

        When I spoke to Forgione the next day, he was excited about that night’s special: snails in garlic-parsley butter au chapon – with a “cap of toast.”  “It’s a 70’s dish from Michel Guérard’s ‘Cuisine Gourmand’  cookbook,”  he notes. “But tonight people will think it’s something avant garde.”

134 Reade Street between Hudson and Greenwich Streets. 212 941 9404.
Monday through Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Sunday 11:30 am to 10 pm.


Cafe Fiorello