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The first week it opened in downtown West Palm Beach, the staff at Forte di Asprinio reported that a table of customers had spent $25,000 on dinner and tipped the waiters another five grand. But you don't have to spend like Imelda Marcos on Ritalin to get a good meal here. In fact, 20-something Top Chef celeb Stephen Asprinio has designed his menu specifically to accommodate gangs of foodies his own age who want to sip and sample without having to empty their trust funds. Asprinio is no longer the chef, but the small, Tuscan-contemporary menu is exquisite. Starters in the $10 to $20 range that also make great bar food include plates of salumi dressed up with delicate vinaigrettes and mostarda fruit and a quartet of fish tastings, each with its own indelible personality. Homemade pastas and risottos, like a lobster ravioli or buccatini in cream sauce, sound obvious but enchant with ethereal and unexpected flavor pairings. Wine flights are dispensed from a gleaming machine at the bar.
Stephen Asprinio's Forté is a work of art. It's as though the 26-year-old proprietor, a contender on the first season of Top Chef, had designed his décor and menu to generate argument — and indeed, since it opened this spring, many have loved it and many have hated it. Even we who love it find our feelings shifting from week to week — pleasure, irritation, shock, despair, ecstasy — but the place never bores. There's a balance of tensions and what sometimes feels like deliberate anarchy, the occasional stroke of genius, and the inevitable flamboyant failure. But unlike restaurants that chart a safe course, Forté never shrinks from risk. The menu changes whimsically and sometimes frustratingly — you'll never meet the same amuse bouche; your favorite cocktail has been discontinued (the basil martini, although it was replaced with something even more delicious and elegant); the specific pairing of fruit compote with cheese (or mostarda with salumi) you raved over one night is ancient history. The menu has Italian genes, but in execution it's almost unbearably personal and not a little surreal, as if the butter poached lobster, the miniature pork chops with wild mushrooms and blackberry sauce, or those codfish "lollipops" had taken shape from a fevered dream.
Don't call Joshua Liberman a "bartender." Even "mixologist" is too lame a term for the guy who's been putting together the drinks at Forte -- potent mixers made from eccentric liquors, seasonal fruits, and surreal decorative elements. He's the "wizard of wet," "prince of the pie-eyed," "most exalted expert of the inebriated." It just can't get any better than this: Getting your drunk on while stimulating your addled intelligence and simultaneously feeling smug about your slow-foodish... More »
Stephen Asprinio's Forté is a work of art. It's as though the 26-year-old proprietor, a contender on the first season of Top Chef, had designed his décor and menu to generate argument -- and indeed, since it opened this spring, many have loved it and many have hated it. Even we who love it find our feelings shifting from week to week -- pleasure, irritation, shock, despair, ecstasy -- but the place never bores. There's a balance of tensions and what sometimes... More »
My job as a restaurant critic is great fun, but there's a sad irony. I never become a regular customer. Budget and time limitations conspire: after a second or third visit I rarely have the opportunity to go back to a place I've written about.... More »
The week they opened in downtown West Palm Beach, the staff at Forté di Asprinio (225 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; 561-833-3330) were happily startled when a small party spent $25,000 on food and drink and dropped a $5,000 tip. So too was it... More »
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