Ode to soup

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Forté’s choice of soups for lunch recently were tomato-basil or spaghetti squash. Tomato-basil sounded too much like what was in my own kitchen, yet I associate spaghetti squash with diet food. A rock and a hard place. Spaghetti squash it was.

I feared something pasty in color and squirming with long strands of squash. But it was sublime. The tawny pureed broth was accented with a sprinkle of shredded scallions and chopped pralines. It was at once a study in simplicity, but complexly layered with rich flavors.

Forté’s executive chef Tim Voss presents a menu full of magical combinations. Every dish we tried at that luncheon was splendid.

For example, three generous grilled tuna steaks (perfectly cooked – seared on the outside, almost raw on the inside) were served with a marinara sauce spiked with ginger and roasted peppers. Doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does.

In the risotto with rock shrimp, the rice was stirred to a milky melding of grain and cheese, with shrimp cooked just to opaqueness.

An assortment of individual pizzas is offered at lunch and dinner. Rustic pizza is topped with artichoke hearts, thin slivers of portobello mushroom, spinach and dollops of chevre. It is cooked under a dense layer of mozzarella that keeps the vegetables tender.

On a Saturday night the dining room was filled, and although the food was again perfect, I found myself sitting uncomfortably close to strangers. One couple spoke in German, so we could pretend they could not understand us, but I learned too much about the young couple on the other side.

We began our meal with an appetizer called mille feuille, which means "a thousand layers." Thin slices of house-cured sturgeon and salmon were layered with mango, lemongrass and house-made potato chips. A salad of heirloom tomatoes was also stacked; the yellow-green slices separated by fresh mozzarella.

The New Zealand rack of lamb looked like an Alexander Calder sculpture, with the rib bones intertwined and holding each other in space. Under this arch was a hill of pureed white beans and scoops of tomato fondue.

The dessert tray also looks like a work of art, the artist being pastry chef Ralph Macioce, who is also responsible for the wonderful crusty bread.

But it was really that first bowl of soup that stayed on my mind. I called Forté and asked for the recipe. Perhaps it was this pending review that made maître d’ Michael Korn respond with such grace, perhaps it is just the style at Forté.

At any rate, here’s how it’s done: Cut one medium-sized spaghetti squash in half and place face down on baking sheets with a little water. Roast at 350 degrees until soft. Remove seeds and skin. Set aside. In a pan, sauté 3 chopped onions and 2 diced stalks of celery and six minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 cup of white wine and cook five minutes. Add a half-gallon of chicken stock and the squash and bring to a boil. Puree and strain and season to taste with cayenne, salt and pepper. Add 1 cup heavy cream. Garnish with minced scallions and chopped pralines.

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