There is a rare trifecta in restaurants, one which all chefs and restaurateurs bet on but so. many. miss it. It will sound obvious but it is this: food, service, atmosphere. Some mistake decor for atmosphere, others think food doesn’t need the cradle of good service to satisfy a diner’s appetite. Still others seem to think mediocre food will taste better in dark lighting and with loud, pulsing music. I’ve eaten at my fair share of poor bets.
When a restaurant hits it on all counts, I get giddy and end up eating too much. This happened recently at Forge, a new restaurant in Tribeca featuring seasonal cooking and a tricked-out cast iron stove. The interior is industrial Tribeca gone rustic- a concrete-topped bar and lanterns suspended on elevator cables meet planks of cedar wood, exposed brick, a farmhouse communal table, and the stove. What is most evocative of the Tribeca location is the lofty layout: where there could be ten more tables crammed on top of one another, there is nothing but airy space. From my table in the back, I had a unobstructed view through the restaurant to the patio outside, and beyond that, the leafy trees lining Reade St. For a New Yorker accustomed to restaurants where tables the size of Mead notebooks are set six inches from each other, this is borderline miraculous.
The service is incredibly friendly, but what might be most impressive is the bread guy. The tricked-out cast iron stove I mentioned is in fact a circa-1906 antique that was wired for electricity. Roughly 102 years later, a diminutive man deftly bakes batches of potato rolls not 15 feet from where I sit perusing the wine list. I watch him brush a touch of butter over a couple of rolls and sprinkle salt on top. A moment later I grin like a kid at Christmas when he brings them to my table with a ramekin of caramelized onion butter.
You can imagine how good this tasted, right?
Now, food. The chef is a 29-year old chef named Marc Forgione whose dad is pretty famous if you love chefs- Larry Forgione. Before opening Forge, the younger worked under Laurent Tourondel and Patricia Yeo- an experience almost more impressive than growing up with L.F. It was a warm summer night and the chilled watermelon soup sounded appropriately refreshing. Lumps of fresh crab filled the cilantro-spiked watermelon broth. I paired this with a Txacolina, a slightly effervescent Spanish wine that was so light and delicious it officially replaced rose as one of my favorite summer sippers. I also tried the fettuccini carbonara. Ok, not so light for a warm night but it was excellent. Served as an appetizer, the fettuccini was tossed with smoky Niman Ranch bacon, oyster mushrooms and topped with a perfect egg yolk. Call me a sucker for presentation but it was really pretty.
For an entree I tried the basil-crusted halibut with a tomato salad. This is one of the best summer dishes I have ever had. The halibut was cooked perfectly with the basil almost an afterthought, and while I don’t know whether this was intentional, it was served just above room temp over a salad of sweet red and yellow cherry tomatoes in a jus of olive oil, lemon, and some marinated red onion. There was a purity of flavor in this dish that underscores the difference in seasonal eating. The tomatoes were so good, the fish so fresh…that’s how summer eating is supposed to be. My companion ordered a veal milanese, served, impressively, bone-in and with a big side of whole-roasted garlic.
Dessert is where gluttony set in. We tried the “taste of American classics,” a rootbeer float, chocolate cake, and butterscotch pudding done in miniature form and perched prettily on a big white plate. Jennifer McCoy, the pastry chef, hails from Chicago’s restaurant scene (Blackbird among them) and shows a deft hand with dishes like plum jelly doughnuts and an incredible fresh berry cobbler. But you cannot miss the chocolate cake, taken from the chef’s grandmother’s recipe. It’s rich, chocolatey, and has an incredible cookie crunch inside that they properly call “cocoa nib tuille” but is indelibly a cookie crunch.
Forge strikes me as an easy spot to go anytime- the bar has communal high tops that makes it a good meeting up spot, and the dining room is casual enough to either go with friends, or when the fam is in town.
Forge is located at 134 Reade St. in Tribeca.