Sunday, June 12, 2011

I like Marc Forgione much better than I like MARC FORGIONE

 We came early, specifically to make sure Chef hadn't left the kitchen before we got there.  We stayed late, too, and Marc came out to say hello upon our departure, so I know he was in there.  And he's a charming fellow, makes you want to love what he does. That said, I know he can do better.  When I ate at the same locale back when it was simply called Forge, I agreed with its Zagat rating of 24.  This meal would be lucky to earn a nineteen or twenty.  So, it's not terrible, mind you.  It's all edible (mostly); it's just I was expecting much, much better.

The room is dark and dimly lit, heavy on the exposed brick, stained wood and wrought iron, the strongest light coming from small, flickering votives. This decor aesthetic is getting a little played out, let alone being much more successful October through March than the other six. In fact, Marc seems to have a bit of an obsession with things autumnal: his biceps tout the purported date of the first Thanksgiving, which was the theme for his victory dish on Iron Chef. The date even hangs on the far wall, "1621" in wrought iron numerals. in His food, too, might be stronger with a weaker mercury. This balmy late spring day, few of the dishes on hand seemed to be hitting their stride.

We began with one of the two tastiest things we would have all night: a complimentary amuse-bouche of The World's Tiniest Falafel (seriously, the size of a single grain of Israeli couscous) atop a dollop of lemony Greek yogurt.  I actually would've loved it even more had the falafel-ette been  ever-so-slightly bigger.  You only got crunchy and no earthy, beany interior which would've added a little more interest.  But still, it was tasty.  The other spooned amuse  was a mushroom caponata.... I think.  Because it was hard to intuit from our heavily accented server (charming smile though he had), and since the first chew was greeted by the abrasive crunch of glass (or perhaps sand, but regardless), it didn't spend quite enough time on my palate to determine ingredients before abashedly spitting it out back into the spoon.  So far, we were fifty-fifty, but I would've been respectively pleased had even that ratio held up.

Apps next, and knowingly, I shouldn't have ordered such a simple sounding salad. But those at Shorty's .32 had been so delightfully overqualified that I guess I was hoping for a repeat. Instead, the only snowpeas perceptible were three julienned shards atop, mostly masked by abundant cheese, and one more lurking at that bottom. Three mild (read: tasteless) slices of radish added a little color, but that was all. The rest of it was just a toss of leaves and a sort of acrid, bitey dressing that did more harm than good. Mirthfully, another starter
was the other marvelous dish of the night, chili lobster on Texas toast. A Texas-sized portion of moist lobster meat, roasted in the shell came in a pool of a kicky, chili-spiked reduction of seafood stock, redolent of roasted shells and ample butter.  Perched aside were two pillowy triangles of grilled white toast, which just got better and better the soggier they got from absorbing the pungent sauce.

Since the lobster was so good, our hopes were buoyed. But then came the entrees. I had to (and wanted to) order the halibut en croute with sauce "proposal". Apparently, it is so named because a customer proposed to Marc after tasting it.  For my own part, and as charming as Marc is, I wouldn't even call it sauce "engagement", or sauce "first date" for that matter. The halibut itself was perfectly cooked, gently, it's "croute" simply a thin slice of soft, white bread toast broiled onto the top, which was a sort of homely amusement, and tasty enough. Within that sauce "proposal" lurked 1/2 and 14 of a small fond of artichoke, despite our waiter specifically iterating that all the entrees came with "substantial vegetables". This
amounted to approximately three tablespoons of vegetables, maximum. (Perhaps his food pyramid is different than mine.... and Michael Pollan's.) Or maybe he was counting the cranberry beans and whole, roasted hazlenuts, in equal amounts, that surrounded the fish.  Which is a lot of nuts, and was nothing but odd in every sense, in addition to being completely unwieldy to the fork. At any rate, I went ahead and ordered some "insurance" veggies, chef's choice, since there are no side dishes offered on the menu. Out came a cute skillet of past-due peas and shaved asparagus, tasting of barely anything but a little stale funk and oil. All this when the markets are heaving with the newest spring harvest (and this was a Tuesday, so no weekend left-overs excuse).

Just as ho-hum was the  red snapper in green puttanesca. There was nothing discernibly puttanescan about the sauce, which is funny: a whore with no zip. The fish itself was fresh and seared crisp on top. Another dish, though, sent out by the chef, rivaled the lobster in novelty and flavor. Thinly sliced Wagyu spritzed with chimichurri cooked atop a blazing brick of golden-pink salt, adorned with a small piquillo pepper and some spring onions. Depending on your doneness preference, you could leave it there to cook to jerky, or snatch it up upon arrival, quasi-bloody. The beef was rich and marbled and juicy, and the chimichurri a perfect rendition.

So we wagered dessert. Not hungry enough to sample more than one, we enlisted the help of our waiter to decide upon a strawberry shortcake. If we had been at Applebee's, it would've been pretty good. But the berries were too jammy, the ice cream already melting, and the bottom layer of sponge just a sogged out smoosh of the three. It wasn't terrible; if your eight year old had made it for you on your birthday you might think he had a flicker of Payard in him. But for a restaurant with a Michelin star, the cloud cover has begun to set in.

134 Reade Street New York City 10013

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