Wasn't planning to post while on vacation visiting my beloved mom, but dinner Wednesday night deserves a mention. My mom, Carole, was all atwitter over the restaurant she'd gotten reservations to, telling us since it was written up in People magazine it was difficult to get in to. "People magazine, how about that," I said. The local papers had said it was hottest new restaurant in West Palm Beach. Whatever. I was more concerned about sitting through the symphony Carole had tickets for afterward.
When we arrived at the restaurant Carole told us was called Forte, on Clematis St., the central strip of West Palm Beach, I was disoriented by the "modern chic" decor and the strange vibe in the nearly empty room (we had a very early rez, owing to the symphony). Carole, never shy, had apparently made it clear to the restaurant that her enormously influential son would be joining her. The six of us were brought to a central table and I was still trying to suss out the buzz here when the co-owner and operator arrived to say hello. He looked familiar but I couldn't place him--what with mom and the kids and vacation and the odd decor. "What's with this People magazine business. And Top Chef thing?" I asked him.
"That was me," he said. Bing! Of course! The elevated do, the double Windsor knot of his tie, Stephen Asprinio, the wine dude on the first season of Top Chef who was so fun to dislike. "The restaurant has just been open two weeks he said," he said, looking a little dazed.
This was a surprise, and fun. I said, "I'd love to get a sense of the scope of the menu, but we have these damned symphony tickets." Stephen couldn't have been more charming or self-assured (the guy is only eight years out of high school). We were seated and got a very quick tasting that even impressed my 12-year-old daughter. Looking around the "modern chic" decor, she said, "It's like eating inside a lava lamp." Then she said, "Awesome."
The food is progressive Italian and a plate of three tasting portions arrived. The nods to Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz were evident in the baby rabbit rack and the cube of foie gras bobbing on the "antenna" serving device created at Achatz's Alinea, and later in the meal, its anti-plate. We went on to have a superb variety of pastas (rabbit ragu with papperadelle, pumpkin ravioli, beef cheek ravioli, a carbonara made with guanciale) followed by a tasting of entrees, red snapper, hanger steak, berskshire pork, duck breast, before reluctantly rushing off, to the Kravitz Center.
The food by chef de cuisine Mark Liberman was executed perfectly, the dishes were intelligent and delicious, and service was attentive, prices reasonable (my generous mom picked up the tab--thanks Mom!). The kitchen even sent out a fantastic grilled cheese on brioche toast for my picky eight-year-old. I'll leave an adequate appraisal of the diverse wine list to someone with an expertise in wine--but judging from our pairings it's well worth that appraisal and reasonably priced.
Anyone who's read my book House will know I applaud people who return to their home town (Asprinio is from nearby Wellington), which is what he's done. You may have loved hating him on Top Chef, but he's off to a good and likable start here. Definitely worth checking out if you're in the West Palm Beach area. Now, back to the beach.