Bites: A Restaurant That Brings the Italian Coast to Miami Beach
Forte dei Marmi is a tale of three seaside resort towns. You have Miami Beach, home to this pale, airy and nicely tailored restaurant that opened in late 2016. Then there is its name, which comes from a popular Tuscan beach town. Finally, there is Nerano, down on the Amalfi Coast, where the chef, Antonio Mellino, has had a restaurant since 1983. It all adds up to food kissed by a sea breeze, always a good idea in a sun-drenched location.
At the Miami Beach spot, an indoor-outdoor affair, the Italian accent dresses local, and often organic, ingredients like stone crabs by tossing the sweet crustaceans with Sicilian tomatoes and chile oil over a bundle of homemade tagliolini.
“I was all set to import most of my ingredients,” Mr. Mellino said. “But I’m finding most of what I need right here. There’s great seafood — people in Miami love sea things — and there are farms that are growing just for us.”
Calamari sliced into delicate, tender ribbons to mimic pasta is graced with mint and olive oil and given a flourish of caviar. Charred octopus is bedded on celeriac purée. And plump rounds of ravioli glazed with rich tomato sauce are musky with smoked mozzarella. Red snapper is paired with squash blossoms, which are inventively used for wrapping the fish, keeping the flesh moist.
Perhaps seafood is the way to go: A substantial veal chop was not flattered by a banal medley of vegetables, mostly peppers. Final indulgences include lip-smacking sorbets and a chocolate-caramel mousse in a puddle of chocolate sauce. The wine list includes my favorite pinot grigio, from Livio Felluga.
A tiny, discreet sign announces the entrance, so look for three tall arches set back from the street amid greenery. Sand-colored fabrics, stone and wood, candlelight and occasional glints of gold set the atmosphere throughout a room and patio that feel more intimate than their actual size.
Mr. Mellino, 62, was lured to Miami Beach by Riccardo Silva, a media executive and art collector, and his wife, Tatyana Silva; they host an arts club and lounge upstairs in the building, which dates to 1938. The restaurant dovetails nicely with the chef’s usual routine. He closes Quattro Passi, his restaurant in Nerano with two Michelin stars, from October to mid-March, permitting him to devote his energies to the Miami Beach project in high season, assisted by his son Raffaele.
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