UPDATE: August 2022
The magic is over. Chefs Antonio and Raffaele Mellino left the restaurant a couple of years after I wrote this article. Thankfully, I enjoyed several visits at the time. Forte Dei Marmi was truly a South Beach gem. After their departure, I visited the restaurant and felt it needed some more time to recover from the change. Finally, I made my way there this weekend to scope it out in the hopes it was back to stardom.
To summarize, it’s not back anywhere near what it used to be, and I am wrapping up my search. I don’t ever need to return to Forte. Sure, the pasta is still good-ish, and the pistachio gelato also rocks. But is it worth service with a South Beach attitude and mediocre everything else? I don’t think so. Pass.
PSA: the restaurant continues to advertise on social media as a restaurant with “2 Michelin stars.” First, there is no such thing as a Michelin starred chef. Second, the original Forte Dei Marmi chef (see below) did come from an Italian restaurant with a couple of stars. Forte continues misleading diners by not updating their social media. End rant.
ORIGINAL POST: November, 2017.
Located on the southernmost tip of Ocean Drive, this Italian import brings its quality cuisine and slow food values to South Florida. The original Amalfi Coast location, 2 Michelin-starred Quattro Passi, continues to be the inspiration for this father and son team: Chef Antonio and Raffaele Mellino. Coming from dinner at another high-end Italian newcomer the previous night, it took me a while to acclimate to this experience. I thought both restaurants would compare, given their Italian roots and similar awards. I expected white tablecloths and formal service, but that’s not the direction my night took at all.
I arrived on time for an early Sunday supper reservation that started off in typical SOBE fashion. The valet attendant’s rude demeanor didn’t charm. Neither did the first Forte staffer I encountered. I suppose we will sit ourselves, I thought, as the woman I attempted to talk to walked away without any eye contact or as much as a simple welcome. Instead, she solely focused on lighting dozens of candles for a good hour and ignored all else. The restaurant had just reopened after, what I gathered had been, a busy brunch. Our waiter finally appeared, after an extended wait. Confused and unsure what to make of his nonchalant and dismissive attitude, the Forte Dei Marmi journey began.
The longer I took in my surroundings, the more the entire picture came into focus. Locals (primarily Italian) popped in occasionally just to say hello to the staff: animated hugs and kisses ensued. The energetic kitchen crew and front of the house spoke mostly in Italian throughout the night. Growing increasingly beautiful as it darkened outside, the modern and chic vanilla interiors glowed with a magical amber hue from the many lit candles. The waiter’s demeanor morphed from an “attitude” to more of an Italian “temperament” I didn’t initially pick up. The more he spoke to us, the more it made sense. I can only compare it to when my Cuban friends and family engage in passionate conversations that involve flailing arms at dangerous decibels. Naturally, everyone else around us always thinks we are arguing. But nah, it’s just “our happy way of engaging,” I always say.
Once the first appetizer appeared, things started to look up significantly.
What I tried:
HITS: Oh, so many…
Every dish served solidified my newly-found admiration for Forte. The citrusy and well-balanced Thinly Sliced Octopus with artichokes in lemon oil was the perfect sharing size. Topped with Petrossian caviar and lemon zest, the delicate Calamari “Tagliatelle” nest ranks highly as one of the most interesting dishes I’ve had all year. And also one I hope to have often. Hint: it’s not really traditional tagliatelle pasta. The Veal Loin “Milanese” Style, sat pretty as the belle of the ball among wild arugula, tomatoes, and hazelnut mayonnaise. Crisp homemade breading surrounded the exquisite veal, while the nutty sauce and greens added depth of flavor. Quale grande festa! Bravo!
Decadently sauced, the Linguine “alla Nerano” dissolved any remaining tension I still felt by then from my initial arrival. The grand finale, Forte’s signature Honey Onyx Pistachio Gelato for two, sealed the deal, fireworks and all. Priced at $30, I honestly didn’t think it would be worth it, but it was. The rich gelato arrived festively topped with pistachios and hiding cookie crumbles underneath the generous serving. I’m definitively guilty of spooning more than my fair share of this dessert; I couldn’t stop.
By dinner’s end, I had to admit I initially stereotyped the restaurant because of its prime South Beach location and the history attached to that space. There are only a handful of Ocean Drive spots locals visit regularly, and there is a reason for that. Miami is not your regular food town. Our strengths can also be our weaknesses, and South Beach magnifies it all. With a one-year anniversary fast approaching, I’d say Forte is well on its way and staying on course.
While briefly chatting with me after dinner, Chef Raffaele mentioned it had not been easy dominating Miami Beach, but he’s determined to stay focused and keep the restaurant genuine. He will ambitiously continue to do things his family’s way no matter what; molding to Miamisms isn’t an option. His contagious passion and deeply rooted pride took center stage, as he spoke.
Forte Dei Marmi is different and in a league of their own. The vibe, refined but approachable. Service, casual and unpretentious. The food, unapologetically Mellino. Lucky us! What an extraordinary addition to our culinary landscape!
150 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33139