Legendary Steaks at The Forge
by arielle castillo
For the first 40 or so years of its existence, The Forge specialized in a very particularly Miami Beach brand of opulence that evolved with the times. In the ’60s and ’70s, under owner Alvin Malnik, that meant a private-club vibe beloved equally by Richard Burton and Richard Nixon. When his son, Shareef, took over in 1991, the new era of the restaurant dovetailed with the city’s glamorous renaissance. For the next two decades, The Forge would often prove a study in contrasts.
The city’s new celebrity elite dined on 16-ounce “super steaks” amid almost over-the-top old-school surroundings, full of wooden panels, stainedglass unicorns, and live finches flying in the bathrooms. The cuisine was classic—baked potatoes, Beluga caviar—but Shareef Malnik’s themed dinner parties became the stuff of new-era gossip columns, populated by everyone from Mickey Rourke and Julio Iglesias to real estate power players such as Craig Robins. By the mid-2000s, the restaurateur even opened a nightclub next door, Glass, where patrons might go to hear the latest house music after a dinner bookended by wines from as far back as the 1800s.
Then, after an intoxicating couple of decades, the party stopped—at least temporarily. It was 2008, and the global economic recession hit Miami’s palaces of excess hard. “Instead of cutting down on my product and lessening the quality, I decided it was the opportune time to close and completely redo the restaurant,” Malnik recalls. “At first, I didn’t have a vision. Finally this word came up: access. As soon as I heard that word, I realized that one word was my vision for design, food, ambience, color palette, fabrics, you name it.”
Thus, the ruling days of massive hunks of porterhouse and creamed spinach in a classic steakhouse environment were over. To start, Malnik almost completely gutted the interior, leaving some signature elements juxtaposed with the contemporary redo. “That’s why you see handmade French paneling in the dining room along with stainless-steel inlays,” he says. “You can see where we came from and where we’re going.”
There was also the issue of the menu. To help the new kitchen, Malnik tapped Dewey LoSasso, an old acquaintance from the days when the chef catered events for Donatella Versace. LoSasso’s own restaurant, North One 10 in North Miami, had just shuttered after a few years of critically praised, Florida-influenced cooking. Malnik reached out, and the two clicked. “It was about using local ingredients. We changed the menu four times just before relaunch,” LoSasso says. “We always want to push it and have fun, and that’s been the driving force.”
As an example of this new playfulness, take a LoSasso creation that’s become a signature dish (as well as Malnik’s personal favorite): the lobster peanut butter and jelly sandwich, composed of diced chilled lobster, chopped Asian-spiced peanuts, and onion marmalade on brioche. “It’s a dish people argue about, which I find really funny and intriguing. About 92 percent of people love it, and the other people wonder, ‘What was Dewey thinking?’” LoSasso says. “We wanted something people could pick up and bite into.”
Other offerings draw from the restaurant’s architecture. A roasted chicken dish, with its featured Mediterranean-style cured lemon, came indirectly from a Moroccan archway in the restaurant’s interior. The snapper in a bag, meanwhile, plays on fish en papillote and the restaurant’s old classic French-centric food. The “bag” here is made of pasta “paper,” in a nod to molecular cooking technique.
The quintessential steaks remain, however; diners can pick from grilled hanger steak, coffee-crusted rib eye, or two variations on filet mignon. Only now, steaks are one of many options in a choose-yourown dining experience that can range from fairly casual to unabashedly decadent. That, combined with more comfortable digs and a lighter palette, has meant a more widely varied crowd, according to Malnik. “The overall demographic is much younger, and because the color palette is genderneutral, there are more women dining alone and at the bar than there used to be,” he says.
While Malnik isn’t leading the raucous dinner parties that were once synonymous with his restaurant, the place still attracts A-listers and business heavyweights. “The difference is that they’re doing it on their own sort of agenda, as opposed to us throwing a party to attract them.” That doesn’t mean they won’t bend over backward to satisfy customers. Last year, rocker Joan Jett booked a party, for one. The restriction? She’s a strict vegan. At the old Forge, that would have been out of the question, but LoSasso gamely concocted a totally animal-free menu for the star.
Also, some of the old party atmosphere has returned: Two happy hours, one on Wednesday featuring Russian Standard vodka and one on Friday featuring Veuve Clicquot Champagne, draw in the younger set for drinks and a lighter dinner. At other times, their parents might still be coming in for the type of meal they remember from 30 years ago.
“The restaurateur was always dictating to the customer how much they were going to spend, and how they would enjoy their dinner,” Malnik says. “Now it’s about not being pretentious, and allowing guests to choose the type of experience that they want. If a guest wants an extravagant, formal dinner, he can have it, but if he wants to pop in and have a lobster PB&J at the bar while he watches the game, he can do that, too.”
photography by gary james; filmmagic/getty images
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.