An Icon’s Rebirth

Historic Forge Restaurant Charts New Course for the Future

It’s been a busy time around Miami Beach’s historic The Forge. In honor of The Forge’s 40th anniversary in 2009, owner Shareef Malnik took advantage of Miami’s off-season to close the restaurant’s doors and reinvent its direction. With the conclusion of almost a full year of extreme renovations, Malnik is now ready to reveal the Miami Beach icon’s rebirth.

A completely updated appearance, inspired farm-to-table menu and lifestyle approach to dining are all elements of The Forge’s new attitude. The award-winning restaurant has undergone a total makeover, the overall design and décor executed by Francois Frossard. The familiar dark woods, stained-glass murals and gilded-framed art have been replaced by walls of hand-carved blonde wood and antique smoked mirror, octopus-like lilac and white crystal chandeliers, and an eclectic mix of upholstered and metal furniture. The elimination of more than 100 seats has created the ambience of a large private home where every diner’s seat is “the best in the house.” The open floor plan of the 6,000-square-foot space allows guests to see and be seen, as well as experience The Forge’s customized environments: The Dining Rooms, The Forge Bar with Enomatic Wine System, The Library and The Board Room for private dining.

Chef Dewey LoSasso was chosen as The Forge’s new executive chef after exhaustive interviews of 172 candidates. Malnik held rounds of tastings at his home, where he challenged the eight national finalists to showcase their strongest dishes. LoSasso, whom Malnik knew from the chef’s days at The Foundlings Club in Miami Beach and as Donatella Versace’s personal chef, impressed the restaurateur with his bold, clean flavors and modern approach to American cuisine.

Technology meets oenophilia at The Forge’s glam new Wine Bar. In addition to head mixologist Andres Aleman and his team of gifted mixologists ready to shake up one of The Forge’s new signature and classic cocktails (a Hot and Dirty martini with bacon-stuffed olives, anyone?), there are also gleaming banks of stainless steel and glass-encased Enomatic Wine Systems, which allow guests to serve themselves wine in one-, three- or five-ounce pours. Guests use the “Forge Wine Card,” which functions similarly to a debit card, to access the Enomatic Wine System.

Another set of Enomatics, dispensing powerful red wines and fine spirits, can be found flanking the Sommelier Station, its backdrop an installation of floor-to-ceiling crystal bubbles — a perfect stage for 35-year veteran Executive Sommelier Gino Santangelo to decant his vintages.

The SunPost discussed with Malnik his approach to The Forge’s renaissance and the risks and rewards of change at one of Miami Beach’s best-known icons.

SunPost: What prompted such dramatic change in the redesign?

Shareef Malnik: The change was well thought out to reflect the trends and staying ahead of the curve. Understanding that the market has changed and it is necessary to step back and reinvent yourself in order to stay relevant.

How does the redesign affect a new atmosphere in The Forge and what do you want that atmosphere to be?

The atmosphere is more casual, access over excess. A guest’s experience can unfold however they want, whether it be a casual time at the bar sampling the 80 bottles of wine by the glass via the new Enomatic Wine System or a multicourse dinner in the redesigned dining room.

I was always fascinated by the lobbies in the grand hotels in Europe where people are doing many types of activities in the lobby space. I wanted to bring that feeling into my restaurant, where some guests may be having a business meeting on their iPads next to guests enjoying a whimsical night out.

Some clients come for an epic experience and some clients come just to “be.”

How do you feel contemporary tastes and sensibilities are reflected in the new Forge?

Without taking away from the elegance and what people cherished most about The Forge, we needed to make the décor and layout less formal, more welcoming and cutting edge. We also infused technology by using the iPad, iTouch and iPhone components.

Were you nervous about making major changes to such a successful landmark establishment?

No, I felt they were necessary to continue on the strong path The Forge was moving on. I really needed to make changes that reflected me… I was evolving and I wanted my restaurant to evolve with me. It now reflects my attitude and outlook of where I am at in my life today.

Philosophically, how do you address a desire to make changes while wanting to maintain a longtime reputation?

Most people welcome change and you take the risk that with a new crowd that is coming in you may lose others that prefer the original. I believe that I, along with designer Francois Frossad and project manager Allegra Parasi, created a space that most everyone may enjoy.

From a business perspective, how does the reduction in seating capacity work?

The reduction has created a more unified flow and encouraged people to experience the entire Forge and the new epicenter, The Forge Wine Bar, which is equipped with seating for 36 people.

What do you find is most representative of contemporary changes on the menu/approach to cuisine?

Chef Dewey’s new Forge menu juxtaposed lobster peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the Forge’s Supersteak. I think that says it all.

How do you think the new wine system will work with the overall Forge atmosphere and experience?

The Enomatic Wine System is the icing on the cake. It allows people to meet and greet and talk to new people sampling the varieties of wine. It allows people to try and taste wines that may have been too expensive to enjoy before now, to learn about their regions of origin and pairing with Forge menu items — in essence to create their own virtual “wine cellar” with The Forge Wine App and to become their own sommelier.

Does the change from the redesign alter your target audience?

No, it enhances the target audience. Now that the new Forge is more casual, a new audience of locals and neighbors have been taking advantage of the more meal-friendly bar and family/communal table which allows people to come in for a quick bite before or after an event.

Tell me a little bit about the Library and its role in the Forge modern experience?

The library was one of the rooms that was cherished, so redoing the Library was a difficult task because it was already a flawless room. I knew I did not want to lose it but I wanted it to feel as if it was a room in my house. I reached out to Mitchell Kaplan to curate the books and stock the shelves with classics and avant-garde art, music, fashion, wine and culinary books. I also knew I would be giving up seating but I want to make the fireplace functional, so we arranged seating around it where people can sit with a glass of wine, order a snack or appetizer and surf the Internet or engage in conversation in a more casual setting.

The Forge Restaurant | Wine Bar is located at 432 41st St., Miami Beach. Hours of operation are Sunday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-midnight; Friday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Valet parking is still $5. For reservations, call 305-538-8533 or visit here for more information.

About Michael W Sasser

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