Cheese. Cheesecake. Vino. To many, this trinity spells a night in rare form, and indeed it was when I treated my sweetie to a five-course dinner and wine tasting at FORM. Established in 2010, this gourmet retail shop/catering enterprise offers a memorable — and, at $40 a head during the summer season, affordable — evening of epicurean delights.
FORM's culinary machine is driven, explains co-owner Brian Torres, by a desire to present "a true showcase of food and wine." With an open seating plan and no-frills décor, the focus was on elegantly-plated dishes and handpicked wines.
"Every single menu is original from the meal before," promises Torres, who welcomes diners before each Friday and Saturday night event.
Having served over 440 dinners, both in the shop and for private parties, that's a hell of a gauntlet. French, Thai, Puerto Rican, Italian, or Spanish influences may appear on any given night.
During our particular meal, the reception began with an amuse bouche of home-cured curry salmon with pungent tropical fruit chutney on cucumber slices, paired with a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. The first course continued the international tour with "mushroom three ways" — stuffed with roasted red pepper risotto, topped with kim chi shallot salad, and served with microgreens in a quiche.
Each diner picked a different favorite, a promising sign for diverse palates. A versatile, medium-bodied Chilean pinot noir adjoined.
The second course was a coup: Pecan-encrusted pork tenderloin, cooked perfectly (like buttah, as we say back home), and served simply with red cabbage sauerkraut.
The next course, which I thought of as a modified "surf and turf," consisted of clams in chorizo broth, powered by cilantro and thickened with very mild sweet potato. Hats off to chef du cuisine James Kleinschmidt for this hardy sequence.
Now, imagine how sated one might at that point, only to be presented with the main course. A meaty sheepshead (a saltwater fish, not ovine brains) was cooked and served en papillotte, in a moist-heat parchment packet.
This course was served with a nest of julienne carrots, which didn't offer huge flavors, but at that point, who needs garniture? What we needed was dessert, which was offered, toot suite, in the form of a soft cheesecake, FORM's specialty.
Throughout the meal, thoughtfully selected wines were served. They were also available by the bottle, using a handy sheet attached to the menu to track your preferences — a service we used liberally at first, then didn't need to further indulge if we were to abide by Brian Torres's maxim to "make sure you remember every dish."
Torres estimates that the FORM crews tastes about 150 wines a week, focusing on small-production vineyards that pair well with food. Claude Auerbach, the man with the plan on the retail side of things, told me that FORM carries 400 wines, 200 of which are under $20. It's also boasts a formidable fromagerie.
Fans "from the islands, from the neighborhood" flock to the store for its curated range of styles and provenances — including Spain, Italy, France, Holland, the UK, and domestics from here to Wisconsin. Auerbach's top pick is a Saint Agur blue cheese, which sells four wheels a month.
What's more, FORM is always moving, always, well, shifting form. From its current Habersham Street location — which has served as a bank, a bakery, and a soul food buffet in former incarnations — the empire is spreading.
FORM cheesecakes are available in Charleston, as well as in Savannah's new Whole Foods. They also recently applied for a craft beer license to segue into that growing and flavorful field.
The culinary masterminds are also developing a full sit-down establishment called Chef's Table by FORM by Skidaway and Bonaventure. True to FORM's hybrid nature, the new enterprise will include a coffee shop, a juice bar, and small plate specials. An art school and gallery are already up and running on the property, with lush gardens in the works.
Torres assures me that lunch will be available before the 2013 holidays. Whatever shape it takes, the debut new FORM, I'd wager, will be solid. cs