July 27, 2014

Florida Life - Dining

Rich, Redefined

Chris Sherman | 10/1/2010

Greg Vassos
L’Escalier chef de cuisine Greg Vassos (above) and his peekytoe crab plate with mascarpone in pasta pillows, garnished with baby corn, fava beans and pumpkin “gnocchi’’ with white truffle foam (below) [Photo: LILA PHOTO]
L'Escalier Peekytoe Crab Plate
For entrepreneurial restaurateurs and chefs, figuring the wants of sophisticated diners is tough — there aren't many of them, and right now they're rather frugal.

The smart answer would seem to be "not another steakhouse." Yet Shareef Malnik decided to stick with red meat when he refashioned The Forge, a bling magnet of glitz and super steaks that topped the Miami menu for decades for celebrities and flashy money.

It's not your sugar daddy's Forge, but the Forge is back. Malnik, second generation of a grand Miami restaurant family, brought in local star chef Dewey LoSasso to redo the menu during an 11-month

rebuilding campaign. The $55 super steak, a 1-pound prime New York strip dry-aged for 21 days, is still there, LoSasso says, not for show but for great quality. The Big Bucks diner who has to show off might consider the shrimp cocktail, $13 for each shrimp.?

However, there's plenty of less-expensive, still-sophisticated LoSasso fare aimed at the contemporary market-fresh foodie rather than the gluttonous gourmand.?Start with a grilled shrimp waffle with wasabi, basil butter and grilled starfruit. For salad,?a stack of local tomatoes, goat cheese brulee, prosciutto and a Chateau Margaux vinaigrette.

You can bypass the big steak for double-cut Colorado lamb chops with vanilla pear ginger chutney, quinoa pancake and mint tangerine salad. If you're off meat, indulge in a many-mushroom risotto — shiitake, portabello and porcini, and truffle oil. On the side, oyster mushrooms from Paradise Farms in Homestead or fava beans with caviar butter. Dessert could be a banana fluttternutter malt or lemon pannacotta with fennel and toasted almond gelato.?

That's prime high-fashion eating, with rare ingredients, clever dishes and very polished cooking. But it can cost; top chefs and large brigades in the kitchen are not cheap. Japanese plum vinegar salt can be $10 an ounce.?

Still, Malnik and LoSasso remade the 40-year-old Forge lighter, more fun and yes, more affordable. You can have one of Malnik's wines by the glass for under $8, miniature oyster po-boys for $13, a lobster PB&J for $17 and a remarkable burger (topped with short ribs, lobster marmalade, pomegranate ketchup and truffled fries) for $20. "Is it the cheapest burger in town? No," says the chef, but it's a great big bite.

Forge tomatoes
Forge chef Dewey LoSasso’s stack of local tomatoes, goat cheese brulee, prosciutto and a Chateau Margaux vinaigrette

That mix of fashion and fun at all price points is key. "We're about access, not excess," says LoSasso.

Meanwhile, up the coast at the Breakers in Palm Beach, L'Escalier is also redefining luxury, adhering to the belief that the patron's money, especially?in large sums, should buy flavor, freshness and purity.

L'Escalier, which revamped last year, has jettisoned a stodgy Continental menu that was once the gold standard of epicurean dining. The setting is still?gilded, service exquisite and prices luxurious, but the food is brilliant, bursting with flavor, possibly the most delicious splurge in Florida.?This is chef Greg Vassos' molecular cooking, currently the world's most precious and advanced. It's a fusion of high tech with produce from great farms so chefs can distill and compress simple squash or fresh corn into bubbles, dense cubes and syrups of stunning flavors.

L'Escalier can reconstruct "breakfast" of duck egg with OJ gelee, hash of duck confit, bacon jam and "pearls" of proscuitto. It pairs peekytoe crab with mascarpone in pasta pillows, garnished with baby corn, fava beans, pumpkin "gnocchi" with white truffle foam.?

You'll love the taste of each part and discover the whole is indeed even greater.?If this is the new definition of posh, the Breaker's post-millennial food savvy reaches out beyond the affluent: Each week, local organic vendors and suppliers set up a parking lot green market so hotel employees can enjoy the fruits of their labors at home.?

In separate ways, both The Forge and the Breakers have rigorously updated landmark palaces of celebrity and privilege. They have found that money in varying amounts can buy more than overdone opulence, and they raised the standard of first-class dining.


The Forge, Miami [Photo: Simon Hare]

Tags: Dining & Travel

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