With so many top Italian restaurants already in the Gables – think Zucca, PortoSole, Fiola, Abbracci, and Fontana – you would imagine there’s nothing new to put on the table of the Italian palate. But Chef Adrianne Calvo has managed to do just that with her latest triumph, Forte by Chef Adrianne. It is a shrine to her concept of bold flavors, and she achieves that with classic dishes that are pumped up.
Her mortadella wagyu meatballs in red sauce have a dramatic punch to their flavor, partly because of the quality of the beef but also because the tomato sauce is enhanced by stracciatella and truffle oil. Her egg pasta spaghetti carbonara is a stunning, muscular dish that forgoes creaminess for a robust flavor of al dente hand-made pasta with a cooked egg yolk waiting to burst and mingle the flavors of guanciale (cured pig cheek from central Italy), cheese, etc.
Our waiter recommended the braised short rib pappardelle, which was on the same par as the carbonara – amazingly flavorful, with a tangy grittiness from garlic bread crumbs that gave each bite a texture to balance the soft rib meat, which had been cooked for 24 hours. Further evidence of Chef Adrianne’s culinary spin on classic Italian dishes is her Tuscan white bean soup with crispy kale and parmesan. It’s the only soup on the menu and it is sublime. It may be the best Italian white bean soup we have ever tasted, a perfect blend of deep flavors and textures, robust yet smooth, with just the right amounts of beans, onions, garlic, carrots, and all the other ingredients of the Tuscan soup.
Forte’s menu also includes a nice raw bar selection, no doubt enhanced by Chef Adrianne’s dalliance with seafood at her Red Fish Grill, which includes a fantastic salmon carpaccio prepared with cucumber relish and orange zest olive oil. There is also a traditional array of antipasto meats and cheeses, but we like the fact that she includes a burrata bar and a choice of three pizzas, two of which are drizzled with hot honey. Forte’s “But Wait, There’s More” selection includes their meat, fish, and game selections. They rave about their pork chop scallopini; we tried instead of the braised lamb shank with polenta, spinach, and sweet cipollini onions. Delightfully tender, unlike most shanks one encounters.
The interior of Forte’s, which reputedly cost the Barreto Hospitality Group some $1 million to refurbish, is done with great style and taste. There is a main room with an enormous ceiling and a large wraparound bar, with walls of brick and a glassed-in wine cellar. We love a good restaurant with a bar where you can order food and eat while you drink; theirs is a large rectangle done in marble with a wrap around copper table top. There is also a long section with a lower ceiling and a row of brick alcoves on each side, with arches like the gun emplacements of old brick forts in Key West. These create a series of intimate spaces that feed onto the warmth of an open kitchen.
Above the bar is a quadrangle of large TV screens, which show a continuous loop of the television show, “Searching for Maximum Flavor Live” with Chef Adrianne, featuring her touring the globe ala Anthony Bourdain, tasting foreign cuisines. At first, it seems a little presumptuous, but as you dine you come to appreciate her bag of bold tastes.
All of this toothsome food does not come cheaply, however. Like Red Fish, which is among the most expensive restaurants in the Gables, Forte pushes the price points. Their Bolognese pasta, for example, is priced at $32. The Bolognese dinner pasta at Café Abbracci is priced at $22.50, at Zucca at $19, at PortoSole at $16. Entrees that are in their $30s elsewhere are in their $40s here. And don’t get me started on their $72 Veal Chop Florentine, or the insanely priced 48-oz. Niman Ranch Tomahawk ($185).
Nonetheless, would we go back for the $10 Tuscan soup, the $20 meatballs, or the $32 Spaghetti Alla Chitarra Carbonara? Yes. How could we help ourselves? They are really that good.