Thursday, January 24, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell. Photo:A Man and His Meal--Chef Bruce Silverblatt matches the Forge in the Forest''s impressive menu with its setting.
The first time I went to the Forge in the Forest, I got the hot dogs. Partly it was the novelty. I had never seen hot dogs on a menu at a restaurant that offered a wine list with lunch. Plus I love hot dogs; c''mon, who doesn''t?
I was still an out-of-towner, here for a job interview. Martin, who is now my boss, suggested the Forge for a lunch meeting. We sat in the May sun at a wooden table on the enclosed brick patio, alongside an ivy-covered wall. The hot dogs came on ciabatta rolls, with good sauerkraut and potato salad ($8.50). They were great. Martin got the panko-crusted sand-dabs on kaiser roll ($9.50), which seemed to help put him in a good mood. It may be that I had already decided that I wanted to move to the Peninsula, but knowing that I would be able to eat more lunches at that table helped seal the deal.
I''ve been back to the Forge many times since, for lunch and dinner, including twice for dinner this month.
A few weeks ago I went alone on a Wednesday night just to eat. This cold snap had just arrived and I felt that I had a good excuse to eat a big meal. I sat at the bar and ordered a half-rack of baby-back pork ribs ($13.95). I warmed up-the fire from the honest-to-God forge at my back and a glass of Jameson''s on the rocks in my hand. The ribs came, along with a mound of garlic mashed potatoes and bunch of broccoli and carrots.
"I ordered a half-rack," I said to the waiter, who grinned and shrugged and said, "Yes. That is a half rack." I ordered a glass of Spaten.
It was nice, eating at the bar, but I must admit that I jealously eyed a table that abutted the fire. So the following week, on an even colder night, I retur-ned, this time with my friend Penelope.
On the way in, I was pleased to see a small group hanging out in the cold night near one of the big firepits on the patio. They were laughing and drinking and one of them was smoking a cigarette. It looked like fun, and I was tempted to suggest that we sit outside-the Forge has a bunch of those big patio heaters in addition to two fireplaces-but Penelope would have clocked me with her purse (she grew up in the Southwestern desert).
Inside the restaurant''s bar area, we were in luck. The fireside table was empty.
After studying the menu for several minutes, we were still undecided. A waitress arrived and offered assistance. I knew it was going to be chicken; I had it narrowed down to a penne dish, which came in an interesting-looking pesto broth ($16.95) or the lemon-marinated grilled and roasted half-bird ($18.95). Penelope was tipping back and forth between the grilled pork loin ($19.95) and another pasta dish-Zuppa de Pesce-assorted fish and shellfish with sausage in a spicy broth over linguini ($23.95).
Our waitress did a great job of helping us realize that we both wanted the meat-and-potatoes combos. Penelope ordered a house salad ($4.95) and a glass of Ventana syrah ($7.50). I got a glass of Paraiso Springs Chardonnay ($7.50).
As it was on the patio several seasons ago, so it was on this winter night. We were both charmed by the room itself. The wine helped-the Paraiso Springs was nice, but for some reason, that night the syrah tasted incredible.
Penelope''s salad was big and she graciously offered to share. Not really in the mood for salad, I took one bite and then ate half of the plate. The mixed organic greens were dressed in an almost transparent balsamic vinaigrette-the bitterness of the greens just barely came through. There were plenty of very thin-sliced red onions, and it was topped with a healthy amount of shaved Asiago. It was a stunning salad.
When our entrees arrived I decided to get a glass of the syrah.
The chicken was marinated with lemon-a classic that I just haven''t seen lately. As advertised, it had been flame grilled to tasty effect and slow roasted to tender near-perfection. The potatoes were simply excellent and the vegetables were just-barely-cooked crisp-revealing the same pleasingly light touch that the chef showed with the salad dressing.
I happen to love chicken, and this was a damn good one, but Penelope, who is a genius with a menu, picked what was probably the night''s real winner: three large, thick pork loin medallions, grilled with Ancho chile and served with a mango-jalapeno chutney. These were not trendily-rare, they were cooked more like my mom used to-till the meat is white, but not dry. (I can attest to their tastiness because I had one of the left-overs with dinner the following night.)
We skipped desert, but we felt like hanging out by the fire a little longer, so Penelope got another glass of syrah and I ordered a glass of the Gundlach-Bundschu "Bearitage" Claret.
As we finally walked into the chill, I found myself feeling grateful. Given the gorgeous space it occupies, the Forge in the Forest could probably get away with mediocre fare. Instead, it offers a unique dining experience, notable even in a town filled with great restaurants.