Ame: Irrational Exubrence
We had dinner with some friends last night at Ame, and while the service and company were good, the food wasn’t super.
All three of my dishes were characterized by an excess of one ingredient. My egg custard (Chawan Mushi) was nice, with perfectly cooked lobster, but the Mitsuba sauce was both so strong and so plentiful that I couldn’t taste the eggs very well. My BF suggested perhaps they knew their eggs weren’t the freshest so they wanted to cover them up, but the quality of the fish in other items suggests everything is perfectly fresh. Overall this was tasty, but not as good as seafood egg custards I have had at other places like Shanghai 1930. Plus while the lobster was perfectly cooked and perfectly fresh I think dungeness is better. $17 didn’t seem out of line for the size of the dish and the expense of ingredients.
While the Chawan Mushi was pretty good in general, my spaghetti with bottarga was inedible. The dish was completely dominated by raw or partially warmed garlic flavor, and I could see garlic flecks as big as my bottarga sprinkled all over. Luckily the waiter did come by to ask how things were and noticed when I didn’t respond to the question. He offered a replacement when I suggested the garlic was dominant; the next version was much better, and the garlic achieved a decent balance with the bottarga. I guess every kitchen can make mistakes at times, but this mistake would have been caught had the chef tasted just one strand of spaghetti, and I don’t think I’ve ever sent back another dish in San Francisco. This was both 50% more expensive and at least 30% less tasty than the version with very similar ingredients I had at Incanto a few weeks ago. After my BF and I started to argue over who had eaten more than their fair share of he spaghetti with bottarga at Incanto, we just ordered another plate of it. Incanto’s was that good!
For dessert, I had the Green Tea Affogato with Pistachio Ice Cream. On this one, the waiter ostentatiously poured the tea over the ice cream at the table. This stunt makes sense when there is a warm beautifully scented soup, where the pitcher of soup is then removed, but my tea came in a little pot on the dessert plate and I would have preferred to handle the pouring myself so I could judge how much to use. It also wasn’t hot, so there wasn’t a cloud of wonderful aroma that billowed up from it and the ice cream didn’t melt in it. Worst of all, the green tea was actually a thick puree of tea leaves, which was so strongly flavored I couldn’t taste the ice cream. I like bitter flavors, but this was over the top. I fished out the ice cream to eat on the side, which helped quite a bit. The ice cream was tasty, but the brown color and the flavor indicated something different from pistachios was used. It was also a bit icy.
At home, I found myself unable to sleep and blamed the spoonful of tea leaf paste I naively swallowed before trying to reduce my intake. Perhaps this can be chalked up to Sunday night doldrums, but I was hoping for something better given the Terra heritage.
Service can be accurately summed up by the Chron's review: "...at times the servers can be annoying. One time we got a running commentary on the dishes our server would order, how quickly we ate our crudo, and the fact that we switched plates and shared tastes. Another time the server continually barged into our conversations rather than alerting us of his presence before he spoke." One of my perrenial peeves was how water was handled; when five of us indicated we'd like sparkling and one wanted still, a friend asked for, "two bottles of sparkling, if that makes sense." He came back with one, which didn't manage to fill five glasses and then launched into a lengthy appology.
I would knock off a star from the Chron's rating, to put it at 2 stars; there's definitely potential here for 3.5.