One Great Plate: Watermelon Soup With Crab and Wildflower Honey

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Forge, the new American restaurant in the Tribeca space once occupied by Dekk, has the rustic throwback décor of an earthy cabin in the mountains: Lots of old woods dominate the space, decorated with an antique stove, butcher block tables and old cookbooks, but filtered through a glossy, youthful energy. There are no white tablecloths here, a nod to the younger generation’s more casual attitude to dining.

Replacing the now out-of-season soft-shell crabs on the menu is the watermelon soup with crab and wildflower honey ($15). A bowl with a luscious pile of diced yellow and pink watermelon, morsels of crabmeat, topped with micro cilantro arrived at my table, poured by Chef Marc Forgione himself. As I stare at the aromatic, vibrantly colored broth I contemplate the other chilled watermelon dessert soups I’ve enjoyed in the past; this savory specimen certainly doesn’t smell like dessert—it smells like salad and fruit, though not fruit salad. It could look like dessert, if not for the drops of oil dotting the broth. So I dive in, and it tastes like summer, with visions of sucking the meat out of crab legs, my chin streaked with melon juices, and herby market salads dancing in my mind as I slurp away. I catch hints of ginger, citrus and the lilting sweetness of the wildflower honey, but I can’t figure out those mysterious pools of oil.  I settle on crab broth before asking what’s in the soup besides watermelon juice. “Not even my cooks know everything that’s in it,” the chef-hawk sporting 29-year-old replied, before promptly listing an array of ingredients that confirm some suspicions (ginger, check) but don’t clear up others—what was causing the citrus, oil, and that rich hue? 

One question is soon cleared up when Forgione explains that the dish’s origins were in a watermelon and tomato salad served at BLT (where Forgione was previously a sous-chef). “One night after service I tasted some of the leftover juices and thought to myself ‘What about a soup?’”

Aha! Salad equals olive oil. Mystery solved. And perhaps a bit of tomato water is fortifying that deep color? But there’s still the case of the confounding citrus—maybe lemongrass, based on other Thai flavors floating in the bowl. “It also makes a great cocktail, but we can’t have them on the menu at the same time,” Forgione tantalized, ensuring I’ll have to check it out when that time arrives.

“I try to give people something other than what they’d expect,” Forgione continued, which explained the healthy use of quotation marks to describe dishes like “risotto” and “chicken nugget,” playfully toying with conceptions about those options. I posit that despite what our parents told us, food should be played with—before remembering that I was speaking to the son of Larry Forgione, a man often referred to as “The Godfather of American Cuisine.” 

“Well, maybe not your father…”

Laughing, the younger Forgione replied, “Exactly. My father said you’d better fucking play with your food.” A soup that doubles as a cocktail base? Thanks, Papa.

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