Amuse Bouche redux

Sunday, March 2, 2008

After my last visit to Amuse Bouche, I commented on how Damir referred to the chef’s tasting menu as the "Fear Factor" menu, and how the time before, we had to stop at the pub on the way home for him to have more to eat, so this time I decided to go with two women who both love to cook rather than one hungry man who is quite happy with the burger and beer special.

It was my friend Pat‘s birthday, and my sister Betty and I treated her to dinner at Amuse Bouche, which neither of them had visited before. We quickly decided on the 7-course chef’s tasting menu, and asked for complementary wines to accompany each course.

First, we were served an amuse bouche (not one of the 7 courses) of a smoked white chocolate and lobster bisque-like mouthful, charmingly presented in an espresso cup. Creamy and sweet, a great start on a cold winter night.

The first of four appetizers was horse carpaccio (that’s thinly-sliced raw horsemeat for those of you unfamiliar with the fine points of eating Black Beauty), topped with dots of sheep and cows milk cheese and truffle oil. Once I moved past the psychological barrier of eating horse — which I was surprised to find lurking in my psyche — it was delicious: the meat is very dark red, like game, very lean yet quite mild in flavour.

Appetizer #2 was smoked trout chopped into tiny cubes, and served with equal-sized cubes of tomato and croutons. At one end of the plate was a peeled cherry tomato; at the other was a similar-sized ball of what turned out to be deep-fried mayonnaise in crust — quite delicious, and an interesting contrast to the other flavours and textures on the plate.

Third was fois gras, which I predicted as soon as the waiter brought us the wines, a muscat with a wonderful blend of acidity and sweetness. There was a cube of pear gelee on the plate, a nice complement to the fois gras, and a third food that I can’t even recall, I was so blown away by the perfect crispy finish on the fois gras that remained pink inside. Actually, I think the third one was crispy onions of some sort, but seriously, the fois gras just dominated that course for me.

Fourth was a square of haddock and one perfect little clam; I could have eaten a bowl of those clams without blinking.

We had a pause before the main course, and a palate cleanser of a tiny ball of passion fruit ice, sweet and tart in just the right balance.

The main was lamb, a loin cut I believe, roasted rare and served on an eggplant puree. It was accompanied by a prune stuffed with chopped hazelnuts and Cabrales (a Spanish blue cheese), something that I will definitely be attempting to replicate at home as hors d’oeuvres. Also with it was a tiny perfect white turnip, about the size of a small radish. The perfect amount of meat after four appetizers (and knowing that we still had a cheese course and dessert to go), although I could have used a touch more veg on the plate.

The cheese course was a savory panna cotta, and although I don’t know what cheese was used in it, it was delicious: served in a small funnel shaped glass, I turned my spoon around and used the small handle to dig the last bits of it out of the bottom (which I felt was infinitely classier than using my finger).

Lastly was dessert, the only course where the three of us were served different selections: a rum and raisin creme brulee, a chocolate marizipan mousse with espresso ice cream, and a passion fruit and meringue tart. All three were delicious.

I remember none of the wines by name except the Cave Springs "Dolomite" Riesling that we were served with the second appetizer, but I do recall that they were a good match for each course. I just checked their wine list online, and none of the wines look familiar, including the Cave Spring which I know that we had, so it might not be completely up to date. They have a nice selection from a number of countries, with a good representation from Canada including some from Thirty Bench, a great little winery in the Niagara region that sends me cases of wine on subscription.

My overall recommendation: this remains a great "special occasion" restaurant, and I highly recommend the chef’s tasting menu with the matching wines. The service is very good but not at all intrusive, although we had trouble hearing one of the waiters when he described the dish that he brought to our table and had to ask him to repeat it. We spent over 3 hours at dinner, and never felt either rushed or like we were waiting around, although I’m glad that we were about to start our main course when a party of 10 — which fills half the restaurant — showed up, since I’m sure that their orders swamped the kitchen after that. By then, however, we were on to the cheese and dessert, both of which require minimal preparation.

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