an AMUSE-ing dinner
Jessica finally found time in her busy schedule for a nice dinner, so we decided to capitalize on Restaurant Week and try Amuse. Amuse is situated in the Le Méridien Hotel, which is just north of the municipal services building (with the giant Sorry pieces, dominoes, etc). The service was average, and the food came out at an usually slow pace even though the place was far from full. Upon arrival, I learned from Nicole that Amuse blocks out prime eating times, such as 6 or 7PM, on Open Table, but if one calls, then he/she will find that there are actually plenty of tables available.
We were first presented with a deliciously warm half-baguette with a dish of sweet butter (pieces seen in our hands). It was soft and fluffy on the inside, while the outside was perfectly crispy. The butter was really good, too. The texture was very creamy and soft, and the slight sweetness complimented the bread well. Luke agreed that the butter was extremely good, as he said that he usually doesn’t use the butter but that this time, it was too good to be left out. Nicole also agreed that both the bread and butter were good but that she’s had better French bread. We were glad that they responded positively to our inquiries for more bread, but we were disappointed to find that the quality of the bread decreased each time. The baguettes were probably all baked at once, so they became cooler and cooler as time passed. However, each time they brought out more bread, they also brought us more butter, which stayed consistently good.
Next came the Amuse-bouche, a one-bite, three-bean salad presented in a soup spoon, which was compliments of the chef. This dish was not particularly good. I only had a small piece of the white stuff and gave the rest to Luke. He agreed that it was not palatable, and Nicole said that it was just all right–that it reminded her of daikon.
After this starter, our real appetizers arrived. We all ordered the Corn Crab Cake (with Celery, red pepper jam, aioli) and were delighted to find that most of it was real crab meat rather than fillers. Luke was especially glad to see that even though it was mainly crab, it did not have the problem of being too large a chunk of crab in one bite with all filler in another. The crab cake was very loose due to the crab pieces being shredded fairly thinly. This was good and bad, as it let the seasoning flavors permeate through but caused the cakes to fall apart easily. The corn kernels on top were extremely sweet as were the sauces. I didn’t particularly enjoy this sweetness and thought that it was too overpowering. Overall, I thought the crab cakes were average , as the herbs/seasonings did not compliment the crab well. Luke, though, liked how the sauces and corn complimented the crab and overall, like the dish. Nicole, too, liked the dish and thought that the sweetness added a nice touch.
Thereafter came our entrées. Luke, Nicole, and I all ordered the Steak Frites (Marinated hangar steak + pommes frites + two sauces), while Jessica ordered the Lacquered Duck Breast (with Farro + red cabbage + brussel sprouts + heirloom apple). We were all disappointed with the Steak Frites, which is really saying something since this conclusion is coming from three people. I thought the portion was small, but in the end, it was enough to fill me up. My steak was medium-rare, and it was pretty tender and easy-to-chew. The flavor was odd, though. It tasted like my mom’s roast beef, which I don’t enjoy that much. I understand that it’s been marinated, but still, it’s a very odd flavor. The sauce under the meat was just okay. It was a little too sweet for my liking and tasted like a very bad BBQ sauce. The texture of the fries was not the best I’ve had. It was a little too crunchy and burnt, so I couldn’t actually taste the potatoes. It felt more like I was eating toasted bread. The ketchup was interesting–the flavor was very intense (meaning that it was both very sweet and very sour), but I didn’t like it that much. The aioli was probably the best sauce out of the three, but it really wasn’t that good either. Luke was also disappointed in the dish, especially having read on the menu (in a box, no less) about the importance of fries. He didn’t like how the fries were so overcooked that there was no meat left in them. He dipped every fry in a sauce, and he thought that the aioli made no sense in this context while even Heinz ketchup is better than the one provided. This ketchup was too vinegary and sweet for his taste. He was also let down by the meat since it was too tough (I think he ordered his medium?), and the sauces drowned the taste of the meat. Nicole, who also ordered it medium-rare, agreed that the meat was tender but didn’t like the that they pre-sliced the meat. She didn’t think the seasonings were that great and was surprised to find the fries cut so thickly. She usually likes the super-skinny cut of French fries. Nicole also agreed that the burnt, overcooked fries were not exactly pleasant and that the sauces were unusual.
Jessica just commented that she liked her duck.
Finally, it was time for dessert! Nicole and I had the Clafoutis (with Stone fruit and house made caramel ice cream), while Luke and Jessica had the Illy Crème Brûlée (with Espresso, chocolate mint, hazelnut). I usually like fruit-based desserts, but this one was just too much for that part of the meal. The salted caramel ice cream on top was pretty good, as the flavor was extremely intense. The tart didn’t have much fruit in it, and the batter/crust was way too thick and sweet. I was just stuffed with steak and fries and definitely was not in the mood to be stuffed even more with heavy, sweet dough and super intense caramel ice cream. In theory, I thought the fruit would’ve balanced out any super sweetness, which made me think that the clafoutis wouldn’t be too heavy, but in reality, it was really just too heavy since there wasn’t much fruit at all. Nicole believed that the caramel ice cream “shone through, completely enveloping my taste buds in burnt caramel goodness!” She described it as being “a tad sweet, but they did a really great job in capturing the essence of caramel and I liked it a lot (I have a big sweet tooth)” but that the actual clafoutis was bad, as it become soggy after the ice cream on top melted. She agreed that the clafoutis was too sweet and that the fruit was barely detectable.
Luke enjoyed his Crème Brûlée, especially since he found that it was made from real vanilla beans (“the only way you can call it a true creme brulee,” he says). The thick shell was satisfying to break into, and he liked that it was not burnt badly. The small chunks of white and dark chocolate on top gave it something extra, which he thought was pleasant, and the mint leaves on top also left a nice, refreshing feeling in his mouth, making him ready for another bite! He said that there was not much espresso flavor, as the flavorful vanilla, chocolates, and mint had masked it well. He was also disappointed to find the dish so shallow, as that meant the dish wouldn’t have an as refreshing bite than if the dish were deeper. Overall, though, he did enjoy it.
All in all, I give Amuse ★★1/2, even with the Restaurant Week pricing, while Nicole gives it ★★★1/2, and Luke gives it ★★★1/2.