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 not sure 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 full picture came into focus. Locals (mostly Italian) popped in from time to time 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 given off by 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 on a regular basis, 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.
Chef Raffaele, while briefly chatting with me after dinner, mentioned it has 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