Forum: Brothers in the kitchen, 'rotating destinations' on the menu

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April 26, 2010 // UPDATED 1:41 pm - April 26, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

// Jim Ringo’s City Center experiment gears up for its first week of business //

Forum has only been open in City Center for a couple of days, but already the restaurant that resurrects the art deco glam of the old Goodfellow’s space has built up a considerable amount of lore.

There’s the dramatic career change of its owner, the corporate executive turned first-time restaurateur Jim Ringo, who retired from a 20-year tenure at Cargill to open two huge restaurants in the same month (Ringo’s, an upscale restaurant with a “globally roving menu” opened in the Shops at West End on April 13; Forum opened April 23). There’s Ringo’s unusual decision to make Christian Ticarro both executive chef and general manager, a dual role unheard of in the restaurant business. And then there’s Ticarro’s even more unusual decision to hire his brother as the head chef. Detractors have cited all three of these facts as reasons why Forum will fail.

But the most interesting bit of lore is that Ringo initially had no plan to open two restaurants — but Goodfellow’s gorgeous space forced him into it. While hunting for a space to house Ringo’s, Ringo checked out the former Goodfellow’s location, at 40 S. 7th St., which had sat vacant for almost five years. And though he realized the space wasn’t right for his project, he couldn’t get the art deco dining hall out of his mind. He had to use it for something. So he built Forum’s cuisine and concept exclusively for the space, instead of the other way around — another unconventional move.

“Jim always says ‘if my heart is at Ringo’s, my soul is at Forum,’” said Ticarro during today's lunch. Ticarro described a “chef-driven menu” that “celebrates Americana,” conceived of by Ringo to honor the space’s history as both a white-tablecloth restaurant, during the Goodfellow years, and a legendary cafeteria, during the 40-year run of the original tenant, the old Forum Cafeteria.

A third of the menu, Ticarro said, will be classic comfort food: “chicken pot pie, Salisbury steak, country fried steak.” Another third will be classic chophouse fare:  “seafood, steak, pasta.” The final — and in Ticarro’s opinion, most exciting — third is a “rotating destination” menu that visits the cuisine of a different American region each month.

May’s menu focuses on New Orleans; June’s will turn toward Santa Fe, N.M.; and then Boston in July (“for Independence Day”) and Alaska in August. Ticarro’s head chef spent 14 years cooking in Alaska before stepping into Forum’s kitchen.

“[The changing menu] really keeps the kitchen creative,” said Ticarro, who has had to research dishes like Cincinatti’s iconic chili mac and a South Carolina specialty called Country Captain, which involves combining raisins and almonds with chicken curry. “It also gives guests something to look forward to.”

The special destination dishes proved especially popular during a VIP preview dinner, on April 22, that accommodated some 300 guests.

As for his combined duties as executive chef and GM, Ticarro, who has worked in the restaurant industry for 25 years, shrugs it off. “It’s stressful, but it’s just the normal kind of stress.” He said he actually finds the role “liberating.” A lot of times, “the chef’s got a great idea, but maybe the GM doesn’t really want to do it. It’s just a lot easier to hold one person accountable.”

Forum opens for lunch Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. The dinner menu begins at 4 p.m., with no disruption in between, and food service continues until 10 pm. Forum offers two happy hours ever day of the week, from 4–6 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., during which all appetizers are half off. A weekend breakfast and lunch menu is served from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.