Clematis Lays Golden Egg

The week they opened in downtown West Palm Beach, the staff at Forté di Asprinio (225 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; 561-833-3330) were happily startled when a small party spent $25,000 on food and drink and dropped a $5,000 tip. So too was it generally a relief for Clematis Street and West Palm when this long-anticipated haute boîte finally opened its doors and lit its big "Forté" sign. Faster than you can say sous vide the place filled with lawyers and executives, with models maneuvering on mile-high pins. On one recent evening, tube-topped girls and their beer-stained dates passed Forté on their way next door to another newcomer to the block, Dr. Feelgood's. It's fascinating to watch a horror show like that, and even better to relish the contrasts while ensconced in a place like Forté, tasting wine or sampling a Rangpur gin gimlet with fresh basil beneath the deep-mauve-colored lights. The area is even replete with honest-to-god characters like the thuggish-looking doorman in an oversized suit with a linebacker's stance; the recently fired busboy pressing his nose to the window; the homeless guy plunked down at an outside table, rolling his own cigarettes; and the has-been music agent who claims he brought Hendrix to the American masses ("Eva hearda him? Jimi Hendrix?"). Could anyone want more?

You don't have to spend like Imelda Marcos on Ritalin to get a good meal at Forté. You just have to make a reservation. Twenty-six-year-old owner and Top Chef celebrity Stephen Asprinio patrols the room in one of his signature flashy ties, his hair spiked; he's devised a Tuscan-contemporary menu that accommodates foodies his own age who want to nibble and sip without draining their trust funds. And he's worked magic in the details, from the silver-and-pink décor with semitransparent walls of metal beads, to the silly-string placemats and chandeliers, to the pared-down menu that yields expansive pleasures. Forté's waitresses are outfitted in thigh-slit black dresses and fuck-me pumps but still move elegantly from room to room delivering food. Appetizers, priced from about $10 to $20, notably include salumi dressed with delicate vinaigrettes and mostarda fruit, and a quartet of fish tastings, each with its own indelible personality. Among charismatic entrees are risottos and homemade pumpkin ravioli served as half or whole portions from $8 to $18, and duck breast prepared sous vide ($28), the flavor intensified by simmering it in an airtight pouch at low temperatures. Even side dishes at Forté such as fennel with faro, an Italian grain ($9), are marvelous. The restaurant still has some kinks to work out: We were there one night when it seemed every kitchen machine was malfunctioning. Yet the SoBe-meets-Vegas vibe is so lively it easily compensates for some vagaries of timing and service, at least for now.

 
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