Each summer I seem to be in Italy for my birthday, specifically in Capri. Don’t get me wrong, I love Capri’s food, it is fresh and simple, but on my birthday if I want an exceptional meal I take a boat over to the Amalfi Coast, to the Bay of Nerano so I can eat at one of my favourite Michelin two-star restaurants, Quattro Passi. Chef Antonio Mellino, who cooks with such creativity and passion, is behind this wonderful establishment. In late 2016 he opened his first American outpost, Forte dei Marmi at 150 Ocean Drive, in a Mediterranean revival building from the 1930’s. I am not usually a fan of South Beach spots. Drive down Ocean Drive and you will find bar after vulgar bar of blaring music, lousy food and mega drinks. It is a place where tourists and bridge and tunnellers go to get soused. But once you drive south of Fifth, things pick up. After all, that is where you will find Myles Chefetz’s hugely successful Prime 112 and his other restaurants. One spot that has not had any luck in the past is 150 Ocean Drive. It’s been the home of Joia, De Vito’s, Cavalli’s and many others. (I hear that Myles owns the building.) Hopefully, Forte dei Marmi will be the exception. Judging from my visit, I would venture, yes!
The restaurant seats 70 inside, 50 outside and another 50 upstairs, and the place was packed, with a “beautiful” well-dressed, stylish crowd. Perhaps they got wind of the high-quality, refined dishes, the local organic produce, homemade pastas, wild caught fish and seafood, or the two star Michelin Italian coastal cuisine. Or maybe it is the sophisticated and elegant design that makes this a hotspot.
The two-story 5,875 square foot building was renovated at a cost of five million dollars by owners of the restaurant, Tatiana and Ricardo Silva, who are from a prominent Italian chemical industrial family.
The name of the restaurant means, “fortress of marble” and you will see beautiful honed marble floors, marble serving platters as well as a monochromatic beige colour palate, natural materials, using stone and wood with candlelight and touches of gold – giving it an understated, upscale feel.
Chef Antonio and his son Raphael spent months setting up the kitchen, finding local producers and selecting wines, as well as creating their menu and craft cocktail list. The food is not on the same level as their Italian restaurant. Rather it is more simplistic, with high-quality ingredients. He draws his inspiration from Italy and the Amalfi Coast. This is food you could eat every day. That is if you can afford it – the prices are posh too.
Antonio wasn’t cooking the day we were there as he was opening another restaurant in Abu Dabi. He also has a successful restaurant in London as well. Then he had to return to Italy as his restaurant there re-opens in the Spring. But we were in good hands as his son Raphael was manning the kitchen.
We started with a local burrata that was surprisingly excellent, that came with the sweetest Sicilian tomatoes (the best tomatoes I’ve had in Miami this year) and some arugula. The fish carpaccio of the night was a glistening fresh snapper, that was perfectly dressed. For my main, I had a Mediterranean branzino filet with an artichoke purée, Spring onion, and new potato chip – I declare the dish to be perfect. My husband had the whole Mediterranean fish “al sale”, which was encrusted in a salt crust and grilled. He got to go up to a beautiful display of fish and select his catch. The price $70 per pound. They had ones large enough to feed 6-8 people as well. After the grilling, they break open the crust, try their best to remove the bones and simply dress the fish with a touch of fresh lemon juice and some high quality Tuscan olive oil. It came with two marvelous sides, wonderful oven roasted potatoes that were addictive and some broccoli rabe. The selection of fish and seafood is quite impressive. Although we didn’t have any pasta, they had a nice overall selection from homemade tagliolini, ravioli, fusilli, paccheri, tortellini to risotto. If it tastes anything like he makes in Italy, you are in for a treat. They don’t precook the pasta like other restaurants, but last minute for better results. This could be a reason that the service tends to be a little slow. But you are coming here to dine. For dessert, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I’ve seen the pictures and I had to go with the homemade pistachio ice cream. It is what dreams are made of. At $30, it doesn’t come cheap, but it can easily feed four people. It took my breath away. You know how some desserts are worth the calories, well this is definitely one. It was the perfect bite.
They go to great lengths to bring you the flavours of the Amalfi coast using high-quality ingredients and featuring exceptional regional specialties. It’s inventive, beautifully presented Italian cooking in a relaxed and vibrant setting.
They are open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday.