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Sep 30, 2008 11:55 AM

Review: Amada, Philadelphia

The wife and I recently visited Philadelphia and stayed right down the street from Amada. For those of you who don't know, the chef recently was on "Iron Chef", so we decided to give it a shot, especially since we had never had Spanish tapas.

We ordered an array of tapas, including: a shrimp scampi-like dish, lamb meatballs, grilled shrimp, parmesan artichokes, clams and chorizo, shortrib flatbread, and a few I cannot remember.

The tapas were very good, but very overpriced, and if you're a decent cook, you can replicate much of this in your own kitchen--it just didn't seem special enough, albeit was served on fancy plates; big deal.

That, and a few of our tapas orders were not placed correctly.

The bill for two people with a decent amount of food was around 150 bucks.

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  1. stormshadow, I'm sorry that your experience was disappointing. I had a somewhat different experience a few months back, which I will paste here for the good of the order. Upon first glance, it doesn't seem I had any of the dishes you tried.

    Long overdue, but for what it's worth, below is an excerpt from [URL= ulterior epicure[/URL] of my meal at Amada in late July. [URL= here[/URL] to see all the photos from this meal.


    I don’t think any other threesome could have ordered more food than we did. We sampled four cheeses, assorted “charcuteria,” and nine other plates of food.

    We were actually trying to eat light. We were having a big dinner at Zahav later. Oh well.

    The quality of the ingredients - as evidenced by an immensely fresh “Ensalade Verde” (dressed greens on green: avocado, favas, and green beans ($9)) – coupled with simple, yet perfect treatments and beautiful presentations made the experience of dining at Amada rewarding. The creative culinary twists – like pairing chocolate-hazelnut puree with a funky cow’s milk cheese (Cadi Urgelia from the Spanish Pyranees) – made Garces’s food thrilling.


    Instead of leaving octopus well enough on its own after boiling, like the traditional method of making Pulpo a la Gallega ($11), Garces throws the coins of cross-cut tentacles in a screeching hot skillet just long enough for the edges to form a crisp, lacy skirt. He dusts them with paprika and scatters them on a wooden plate along with sliced fingerling potatoes. With a squeeze of fresh lemon, it’s great.

    Our server (and the kitchen) was very accommodating, allowing us to deviate from less extensive lunch menu and select a few items from the restaurant’s dinner menu. The service was pleasantly laid-back, attentive, and knowledgeable. I especially commend the staff for its wonderful sense of pacing. We asked that dishes be sent out in progression and at no point was our table over-crowded.

    Never mind that the plate of charcuteria ($12) was picture-perfect – Peppery salchichon, spicy-sweet chorizo Pamplona, and waxy Serrano all thinly sliced and served with garnishes and slices of baguette. Or that the Escalivada, a stretch of silken grilled vegetables bathing in fruity olive oil, was in fine form.

    I want to talk more about the cheeses.

    I’m always on the look-out for an interesting selection of cheeses. While I get that (in spades) at high-end places like Picholine, rarely do such interesting and diverse selections appear in more casual settings.

    Not only does Amada have a fine selection of region-specific cheeses, Garces pairs them with the most amazing condiments. As mentioned above, a pungent cow’s milk cheese, Cadi Urgelia, was paired with the equivalent of home-made Nutella. You wouldn’t think the two would taste good together, but I found the coupling wildly successful – the toasted hazelnut and funkiness in the cheese finding uncommonly common ground. To a lesser degree, the Aragones, which was paired with golden raisins soaking in a “white Sangria honey,” was also very successful. And Queso de Cabra, a fresh goat’s milk cheese, took on a dessert-like quality with the help of an accompanying strawberry jam made from balsamic vinegar.

    But the cheeses were just the tip of the iceberg.

    There was a wonderfully fragrant plate of Setas perfumed with truffle oil ($14). These weren’t the crisped, griddled fans of oysters I was expecting. Rather, it was a silky assortment of wild mushrooms – oysters, beech, shiitake, and what appeared to be cuts of king oyster mushrooms. There were also incredibly tender morsels of Chiporones a la Planca ($5), caps and tentacles, strewn along a strip of white enamel dappled with parsley oil. As with the octopus, both the mushrooms and squid benefited from a last-minute inoculation of fresh lemon.

    And there was a comforting bowl of Habas a la Catalana ($8), probably better suited to a wintry night than a balmy late-summer lunch. Nevertheless, the hearty heap of perfectly cooked favas and giant white lima beans in a warm ham-infused broth, was appreciated with gusto.

    The “Patatas Bravas” at Amada weren’t the chunks and wedges I’m used to seeing ($4). These baton-cut sticks weren’t afraid of being more American in form and, as a result, managed to achieve crispness not common to traditional patatas bravas. As alluring as the structure of these patatas was, these zippy fries weren’t anything particularly memorable, not aided much, either, by the spicy paprika-spiked aioli, which was liberally drizzled over the heap.

    By comparison, that same aioli was more successfully used to enhance two crab-stuffed piquillo peppers ($12) served in a cazuela. The smoldering, silky, and sweet peppers, bulging with a molten, creamy mix of crab – not unlike thick brandade – were sparingly topped and spiced with the paprika sauce and flocked with crisp, slivered almonds.

    If there was one disappointment, it was the Lamb Chops a la Plancha ($14). Two to an order, these Frenched lollipops were slightly overcooked for my taste, and slightly boring. I’ll also note that none of the three desserts available raised enough curiosity to warrant a venture in that direction - not that Spanish desserts (Spanish desserts “reinvented” no less) ever really excite me. Flan is (usually just) flan is (usually just) flan no matter how much one tries to über-flan flan. And rice pudding is (usually just) rice pudding is (usually just) rice pudding no matter how much one tries to über-rice pudding rice pudding. We headed to Capogiro afterward and were, blissfully, none the wiser.

    As early as late 2005, shortly after the Amada first opened, I was already receiving enthusiastic missives about the restaurant from fanatic friends. Although the uniqueness of the restaurant has undoubtedly diminished over the past three years, due to an invasion of multifarious tapas-pedaling palaces and dives, I’m still excited by what Garces offers at Amada.


    The level of execution of the food at Amada was superb, the ingredients were incredibly fresh, and the inventiveness of the cuisine - like the “White Sangria,” a refreshing citrus-kissed white wine nectar perfumed with rosemary, originally created by Ms. Katie Loeb, Philadelphia’s bartendrix extraordinaire* - managed to escape the cheapened, hackneyed stab at “different” that has infected so many of these types of establishments. Amada practices subtle innovation while leaving much - the most important parts - of the traditional charm of Spanish cuisine intact.

    Although I can’t say that the awkwardly combined storefronts which comprise Amada’s facade is particularly attractive, the interior has a rustic austerity that I find particularly agreeable. The dining area is quite open, and given the wood floors, wood cabinetry, and sparse upholstery, I can see how, during peak hours, the volume could be quite loud, as some have forewarned.

    I can easily justify return visits to Amada - if not to try more of the menu, or for more setas, more octopus, or much, much more cheese - for the opportunity to drag three others along to experience the “Cochinillo Asado,” a whole, roasted suckling pig served with an assortment of side dishes ($32 per person). Heck, I’d return just to sit at the bar and watch them slice ham on that beautiful red-enameled jamon-slicer (I’m not sure if it was a Berkel, but it looked like one).

    * Although Ms. Loeb helped design Amada’s beverage program, she has since moved on to other endeavors, leaving a sweet and tasty trail of drinks, mixed and otherwise, in her wake.

    10 Replies
    1. re: ulterior epicure

      This restaurant confirmed a sneaking suspicion that I've always had about many tapas restaurants: it's a great scam to charge people a lot of money for small plates of food. Having traveled extensively in Spain, I have a reasonable idea of how delicious Spanish tapas can be. The food at Amada is good, not great. The first sign something was amiss was how enormous the restaurant is, basically the size of a cracker barrel restaurant. I ate nothing truly outstanding. This could have been due to the fact that I was there with a large group of people and we decided to go with the chef's tasting menu for $55 each. one of the people in our group was allergic to red meat, mustard and shellfish. i asked the waitress if this was something the chef could work around and we were assured that it would not be a problem. I believed the waitress because of all the delicious pork things on the menu: three different kinds of chorizo, the amazing spanish ham that i could not wait to try, ETC. Anyone who has been to Spain knows that this is a county that does pork very well. Imagine my surprise when out of the 10 small pates we were served, NONE of them featured pork and our friend was allergic to four of them. I asked the waitress why we were not getting things that everybody could eat and I was told in a less than friendly tone that "there will be enough food to satisfy everyone." The chef's tasting menu was a total rip off and was really quite boring. The most authentically Spanish things we were served was a potato and egg tortilla, a meager plate of Spanish cheeses, and some vaguely spiced chicken and potato dish with a "hen egg" (no kidding, that is what the waitress called it) on top. along with that, we were served the "heirloom tomato flatbread" which was basically an inert cracker with a slice of heirloom tomato on it. there were scallops that had been pounded a bit and then sliced in half to give the appearance of larger scallops, uninspired shrimp in a salty butter sauce, and tough, chewy octopus. my friend, the birthday girl, requested chorizo early on and it never materialized. we also ordered the wine pairing for an additional $20/person. we began the meal with two $35 (!!!) pitchers of sangria. when the bill came i almost had a heart attack: for a group of 8, it came to a whopping $893 or $125/person. i have eaten in some fabulous restaurants where i'm more than happy to pay $125. sadly, this place was NOT worth it at all. if you're looking for a trendy, loud restaurant that does not want to challenge you or wow your palate, look no further.

      1. re: khornstein

        Wow, every tasting menu I've done at Amada has consisted of A LOT of pork. When did you go?

        I love Amada but I wonder of the beloved is getting enough love with The Garces Group focused on expanding the empire.

        1. re: barryg

          i went about a month ago. i wrote a strongly worded letter to the management and they actually reimbursed us for the gratuity. so at least we got some kind of formal acknowledgment of what happened.

          1. re: khornstein

            What always confuses me about when people say, "and when the check came it was $xxx.xx!!!!" is that you all had menus, the menus had prices on them, and you all knew what you ordered. So what is the surprise when all of that comes out to $xxx.xx!!!?

            If you don't want to pay that much, just don't order that much food.

            1. re: Philly Ray

              i was referring to the fact that the cost in no way measured up to the quality of food we were served. i obviously knew how much the food was going to cost. that was not the issue...the surprise is that they would have the gall to charge that much for the poor quality. does that not make sense?

              1. re: khornstein

                I guess that makes some sense, but I have dined at Amada many times and have had nothing but stellar food and very good service.

          2. re: barryg

            That is sad. I loved my trip to Amada. I wonder if you're right about them opening too many places in close succession+.

          3. re: khornstein

            Interesting, in another thread posted how went to Amada for the first time, had the pig for four, nine tapas, enough liquor to float a battleship, including Adria's new beer, two bottles of wine, great rose, much wine by the glass, including dessert wine, and three cocktails. Had enough food taken with us to do the same thing for the next two nights. Found everything great with the exception that the pig was too salty, and the bill was @ 100/pp. The padron peppers and the grilled scallions alone made me a serious fan of this place. Sorry for your tough night. One person's food allergies can make it difficult for the rest of a group.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              how did they do the grilled scallions? had some a couple years back at ansill but all it tasted of was burn and oil, they graciously took it back.

              since then have been doing my own rendition with romesco sauce to great success and not sure i'd chance to have them out again.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                Hey PSP, seemed very similar to the padron peppers, good EVOO, slightly charred then served with a Spanish Fleur de Sel. As said would go there just for that. Will delay for a while in France now.