Forté di Asprinio (West Palm Beach)
Has anyone tried this place yet? I'll be in the area later this week and may have time to grab lunch. This is Stephen from season 1 of Top Chef's new place.
The menu is up on menupages...
looks interesting and reasonably priced. The comments at the site say the service and room felt uptight, which I could see after watching the show. The website is not running yet. One thing that is for certain - they will have one hell of a wine list. They also say that a strong focus is on house cocktails, with an in house mixologist and 3 sommeliers working the room.
Went last night (a Friday) and contrary to zenana's experience, it was deserted. We were early but even as we left around 8 there were only a few tables full. Perhaps that's because it's out of season. I hope they continue to get enough business because the meal was great.
The tuna-based amuse and the house made foccacia were indicators of good things to come. I started with pumpkin soup, which included a few small marshmallows with five spice powder. I'm not one for marshmallows but these were wonderful. A companion had the ceaser, which was one of the best I've had - I don't mind the whole romaine leaves. For main, I chose salmon. I enjoyed the farro with it and the fish was done nicely - not particularly memorable like the soup was, but a good dish. My husband had the veal burger. Very flavorful - heirloom tomato, good fresh bun, cooked perfectly. Others had the carbonara, which they enjoyed (I didn't taste it). Desserts were well-executed and enough to share - we each got one and only one of the four of us finished.
Service was fine - we had a professional and friendly waiter. The gap between appetizers and main course was longer than many restaurants, but this actually suited me. We were dressed on the preppy side and felt a bit out of place in the club-style decor when we walked in, but the other patrons looked more like us and nobody gave us snooty looks, so it was fine. I second the "go, go, go"!
I've been many times and I encourage everyone to go. It's a very, very, interesting menu, really risky and exciting. Not always successful, and on weekends the place can be excruciating (on a couple of occasions we literally waited hours for our meal). Go early during the week and avoid the rush on weekends. Pastas are extraordinary -- rabbit, beef cheeks, pumpkin ravoili --, appetizers of salumi combine completely unexpected flavors and textures -- you'll inevitably find yourself saying that you've never tasted anything quite like this before. Cocktails are really imaginitive and delicious, and there's a good list of wine flights at reasonable prices. The menu and presentation has been slightly different each time I've been. They definitely have some kinks to work out in the service. But I can't think of another restaurant in PBC where the food is this exciting, even the failures. (prices are fairly low considering the quality, asprinio is trying to cultivate a younger crowd of foodies). go, go, go.
I paid a late night visit to Forte di Asprinio this weekend after the Elvis Costello/Police concert. We got there about 11 ish. I'm a Miami guy and don't get up to Palm Beach that often, it was outright bizarre to me to see Clematis Street looking more like spring break than a toney stodgy place for old money to winter, with a place a couple doors down called "Dr. Feelgoods" fueling the young, stupid, and unable to fully handle their liquor. Anyhoo ...
The place strives to look, feel and sound more like a nightclub than a restaurant, with a few different seating areas - a main dining room w/ mostly booths, another area with smaller tables (the "late night dining" area), and a long bar running the length of the back, each cordoned off a bit from each other with "screens" of metal beads. Everything is very metal & plastic, white & silver, muted purple light, Groove Armada and the like on the stereo, etc.
The late night menu is short but sweet - no more than 10 or so "small dishes", each $10, a few choices of "sides" @ $5, and a few desserts. We were starving, having not eaten before the show, and each got a couple of the small dishes and added a couple sides (more like snacks). Mrs. F ordered a caesar salad and a cheese plate, while I got some clams and a bucatini all' amatriciana (recommended by our server over the arancini stuffed w/ oxtail, the other dish I was considering), along with snacks of olives and popcorn.
The cheese plate showed up first (nobody asked our preference), with a few different cheeses (nobody told us what they were) each with its own accompaniment (needless to say, nobody told us what these were either) - a square of honeycomb (my favorite thing with cheese) with one, a citrus gastrique with another, a little frisee salad with another. I nibbled a nice blue cheese while Mrs. F enjoyed the other cheeses. Very nice cheese plate, would definitely have been enhanced by a bit more information from the server.
Shortly after the cheese plate we were brought the clams for me and the salad for Mrs. F. The clams were a great dish, steamed in a broth assertively flavored with chili, garlic, saffron and mint, and coming with nice crispy slices of grilled bread for dipping (an absolute essential for any steamed shellfish like clams or mussels, as the broth is the best part). Great combination of flavors, great balance, boldly flavored without being overpowering. Also a very generous portion for ten clams (sorry, couldn't resist). An extra bowl for shells would have been nice.
I never really encourage ordering of caesar salads, but to each his own, and this was a good one, with a nice dressing, big shards of parmesan and high-quality anchovies. One thing I'm not a big fan of is caesars that use whole romaine leaves - it makes for a prettier presentation but it's a lot harder to eat.
Next, we waited ... for quite some time ... until we weren't sure whether or not our order had been forgotten ... and then we waited some more ...
Finally, all at once appeared all of our remaining dishes - the bucatini amatriciana, as well as the olive and popcorn snacks. Said snacks probably would have been really nice to have, say, during that really long wait for the next course. But, alas ...
The pasta was very good, really hit the spot for a late night hunger. An amatriciana is a spicy tomato sauce traditionally flavored w/ guanciale, a cured pork jowl that's like a bacon. It's a simple dish, very nice when done right, and this one was right on all counts. The tomatoes were richly, densely flavored, enhanced with some onion, dense chewy cubes of guanciale and a grating of pecorino on top. The bucatini (a long noodle like a spaghetti but hollow in the middle and much thicker) are tricky to eat, but they're the traditional pasta for an amatriciana. Again, a generous portion for only $10 - not quite what you'd generally expect to get as an entree-sized serving of pasta, but probably more than what you'd expect to get as a half-portion.
The popcorn was advertised as flavored with espelette pepper and chestnut honey. This was a great idea, but the pepper was a little too far in the background and the popcorn was a bit oversalted. Nonetheless, we happily nibbled it while finishing off our wine. The olives sounded better on the menu than they delivered. Warmed, and served with marcona almonds, the citrus peel advertised on the menu didn't quite work its flavor into the olives quite enough to add much interest.
After clearing the dishes, our server brought the check without offering us dessert. Maybe she read our minds (we were planning for bed, not dessert), or maybe it was just getting late.
The wine list is very deep - I couldn't begin to identify where it was particularly strong as it seemed to have several strong suits. A good selection of half bottles and several good wines available in 3oz or 6oz pours as well. We went with a half-bottle of Ken Wright's Shea Vineyard Pinot (2006) which was absolutely, positively lovely, and at $50 not unreasonably priced at all (maybe 2x retail but no more).
Stephen was bopping around the place and shmoozing a couple of the tables, though didn't deign to pay us a visit - it's possible he may have heard me say it looked like he'd borrowed his suit from Pee Wee Herman ("Paging Mr. Herman!").
Much of the food was really very good - the clams and the pasta in particular - and I'd love to go back during regular hours for dinner. The service, as I've suggested in a few subtle comments above, was mixed. Maybe that's just a late-night thing, or maybe just a bit of bad luck, but not enough to discourage me from paying another visit next time I'm in Palm Beach.
This place is no longer associated with Stephen Asprinio and it is no longer a reputable restaurant. The place is nice and the basic italian is okay but really nothing special at all. Basically it has the look of a cheesy nightclub and the food of Olive Garden. If that is what you're looking for then check it out! I did have a Creole Cable Car cocktail that was great, best part of the meal.
225 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401