Amuse Bouche Restaurant: Definitely not amused
Went to Amuse Bouche last night for my birthday dinner, after having it on my must-try list for more than a year. Not at all impressed. Here's my long review of the night.
My wife and I both got tasting menus; the 4-course for her, 5-course for me. One of the dishes posted on the “seasonal menu” on the website that I was dreaming about – foie gras with sweetbreads – was absent. The waiter told me it had just been taken off the menu, but that the kitchen had foie gras and could prepare it specially for me. I was happy.
Sadly, the happy feeling didn’t stick around long. It’s not that any of the dishes we had were bad. They were just unmemorable, and particularly uninspired as part of a tasting menu.
The meal opened with bowls of seafood chowder served with croutons. The chowder came out in good time following our orders (a trend which would not continue). My wife and I agreed this was the best dish of the night. The broth was rich and creamy, without being too heavy. The seafood, while not plentiful, tasted fresh. And the smoky flavour (smoked paprika, I think), was fitting without being overpowering. Still, while it was a good chowder there was nothing special about it, and I was surprised it was featured on a tasting menu.
After the chowder, we waited. And waited - a good 20 minutes until the next course, a beef carpaccio served only to me (as I had the 5-course). I’m normally not a huge fan of carpaccio, but enjoyed this. The beef was fresh, and was served with a smoked Montforte cheese – which tasted great on its own, and worked fairly well with the beef – and what I believe was described as a cognac cream, the flavour of which was so muted it really could have been anything).
I finished the carpaccio (sharing with my wife, of course!), and waited some more. Another 20 minutes, if not more, and out came our requested foie gras dish – two very small slivers, seared, one on a plum compote, the other on a berry. I love seared foie, and I’ve been fortunate enough to never have a poorly-prepared piece – until last night. One of the slivers was seared perfectly. The other (on both our plates) was undercooked, mushy, and almost bordering on inedible.
Foie gras finished, and more waiting. Either Amuse Bouche has decided that 20-25 minutes is the appropriate amount of time between the time one course in a tasting menu is removed from the table and the next arrives, or the kitchen and service was so off on this particular night that things just didn’t flow. Given that everything came out at the appropriate temperatures, though, I suspect that (inexplicably) the former is true. Our meal was three hours from start to finish - I've had 9-course tasting menus in less time.
But I digress. The next course, the main, was easily the biggest disappointment of the evening. Three medallions of pork tenderloin were served atop a mustard-based cream sauce, alongside one brussel sprout cut into quarters, and three carrots sliced paper thin. While the pork was cooked properly, the presentation and flavour were mind-bogglingly underwhelming for a restaurant that has a reputation for innovative and creative twists on French-inspired food. I really could have cooked this at home, and was quite taken aback to have it come out on a tasting menu. More surprising was that the a la carte menu had a pork dish on it that was described as “Wellington” style (their quotes, not mine); I was expecting puff pastry or some other interesting twist. I got nothing.
Aside from being underwhelmed by the pork, I was also somewhat surprised at the selection of this dish: after three heavy, fatty dishes, I must admit I was expecting a fish main.
Dessert was fine – an assortment including a couple of mousses, a flourless chocolate cake with blueberry ice cream, crème brulee. Again, really nothing memorable.
Service alternated between mediocre and absent. Due to work schedules and snowy roads, I arrived at the resto about 20 minutes before my wife, and the waiter brought bread and asked if I’d like a drink. I ordered a cocktail, and proceeded to wait 15 minutes for it.
After our waiter took our orders, it became a guessing game of who would visit our table next. It wasn’t that we had one waiter and one runner bringing us food. It was that we had one waiter who we saw randomly through the evening, and two or three other employees bringing us our dishes. When the dishes were brought, they were placed in front of us, with the server only briefly describing what was being served, and at such a low volume that we constantly had to ask for the descriptions to be repeated.
Our water glasses were filled when we sat down, and then weren’t refilled at all throughout the evening, until I finally flagged down someone carrying a jug in desperation. I’d finished my wine after course #2 of 5, but nobody ever asked if I’d like another. Again, it was only after I asked for another glass as my main – course #4 – was served that I actually got more.
Even in the most high-end of restaurants, I don’t want or expect kid-glove service. That said, what I do expect when I’m spending more than $200 on a tasting menu dinner is to build a rapport with my server, such that I feel able to ask him or her questions about the dishes if I choose to. I also expect water to be filled, and wine glasses attended to. Amuse Bouche falls woefully flat in these areas.
Overall, this was the first meal I’ve had in Toronto in years that left me truly disappointed, especially considering how long Amuse-Bouche has been on my “must-try” list. The dishes other patrons were served, obviously ordered a la carte off the menu, looked fairly interesting. Perhaps the secret here, then, is to order off the menu. Of course, that begs the question – why offer tasting menus if you’re not going to take them seriously?
96 Tecumseth St, Toronto, ON M6J2H1, CA
Hey, sorry to hear of your bad time at Amuse Bouche. I have been for dinner about 4 times, and I must say that my last visit (3-4 weeks ago) was my best experience yet. I have however, had marginally disappointing meals there in the past. So I can see where you are coming from.
I think you have hit the nail on the head when you indicate that the tasting menu might have been part of the problem. I generally find that many good Toronto restaurants fall flat on tasting menus. As for why they bother, I can only surmise in their minds they are trying. That being said, its certainly not something a restaurant can use as an excuse. Did you complain at all, and if so, what if any response did you get?
We did voice our concerns; specifically, I told the waiter that I felt the pork dish (main) in particular was somewhat "uninspired" for a tasting menu. Two things I need to mention here for context: 1) as per my notes above about the poor service, we were only asked about our thoughts on the meal after the final course was removed from our table; and 2) given that it is a tasting menu (chef's choice style, as per a proper tasting menu), I had no intention of sending anything back unless it was really under/overcooked. When I did offer my comment, I received a stunned sigh, and a "you should have said something earlier." Since I was done at that point and didn't want to get into a whole "If you'd asked me earlier I might have told you earlier..." counter-arguement, I just left it.
Tasting menus regularly offered at higher-end restaurants are supposed to be a showcase for the kitchen's best efforts (unlike, say, a promotional tasting menu during Winterlicious, which is focused more on value than showcase). I would reiterate that if a restaurant isn't able to put equal or greater effort into tasting menus as they do with their a la carte dishes, they should just eliminate the option entirely.
i've watched the tasting menus appear at tables at haven't been personally impressed. it did seem a bit.. plain. the best experiences i've had are their tapas tuesdays and doing that a la carte.