Amusing ma bouche

Having had a great lunch at Banu earlier in the day and a lengthy nap in the afternoon, Damir and I celebrated my birthday at Amuse-Bouche, a fabulous little restaurant in our neighbourhood that opened last year on the spot of Susur Lee‘s former Lotus restaurant by Jason Inniss and Bertrand Alepee, both formerly at The Fifth.

We’ve only been to Amuse-Bouche once before, and on that occasion we each ordered a starter and a main; since they specialize in small, perfectly-prepared dishes, we ended up stopping at the pub on the way home so that Damir could eat another course or two. This time, we decided to order the 7-course chef’s tasting menu, or what Damir referred to as the “Fear Factor menu”.

The food was outstanding. First was the amuse-bouche, which was not part of the tasting menu but is served to everyone: a lobster panna cotta with a small pile of chopped lobster meat on top, served in ceramic Chinese soup spoon. Just two bites, but a great hint of what lay ahead. We ordered a half bottle of the Vitteault-Alberti Cremant de Bourgogne sparkling wine to get things kicked off, and toasted my birthday.

The tasting menu started with the chilled fennel consommé with a thin (but quite large) slice of white tuna, topped with a tapenade crisp with olive oil and chipotle emulsion. This would have been much better on a hot summer evening than the chilly rainy one that we had; I liked it but found it incompatible with the weather, and Damir wasn’t keen on the broth and left some behind.

After this inauspicious start, we moved on to venison tartar “millefeuille”: raw minced venison with an ultra-thin potato crisp on top, accompanied by truffled mustard “ice cream” and cornichon beignet. The venison was perfect: velvety and tasty, and the smoky mustard blended with it nicely. The tempura-friend cornichon was a bit odd, and too greasy for both of our tastes, but otherwise this was Damir’s favourite of the appetizers.

The third appetizer of the night was perfectly pan-seared Quebec foie gras, served with the tiniest wedge of a ginger-infused French toast, a spot of white port jelly, and other tasty dots of flavour on the plate. Like the other plates, the decorative dots and swirls turned out to be incredibly tasty garnishes. I love foie gras, and this was my fave appetizer.

The fourth and last appetizer was a large scallop — listed as a bay scallop, although large enough to be a small sea scallop — wrapped in smoked duck and pan-seared, and dressed with a morel emulsion. The duck tasted like a very rich and salty bacon, and complemented the scallop well although I found the dish a bit salty overall.

As a palate cleanser between the appetizers and the main, we were served a tiny ball of blueberry and lavender ice: two flavours that I wouldn’t have thought to put together, but really worked.

By now, we’d moved on to a bottle of a 2003 New Zealand Pinot Noir, the name of which I have totally forgotten but it started with an “A” and was 6 or 7 letters long…you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to find, but I haven’t so far. Nice taste of black cherry, complementing the variety of dishes nicely. There’s still something vaguely disturbing, however, about having a waiter in a fine restaurant remove the screwcap of your wine with a flourish.

Our main course was roasted breast of duck with a soursop puree and coffee and cardamom reduction. Beautifully cooked, still rare on the inside, and definitely a winner with both of us.

The cheese course remains a mystery, since I didn’t catch the name of the cheese, but it was tasty: a small round of a quite salty cheese in a thin layer of puff pastry, served warm so that the cheese was quite soft and runny inside.

Last was dessert, the only course that differed between the two of us. Damir had a delicious little crème brulée with fruit garnishes, and I had a rich, dark chocolate mousse/ganache.

After almost three hours and 9 courses (if you count the amuse-bouche and palate cleanser), we definitely didn’t need to visit the pub for a top-up.

As a wonderful complement to the food, the service was sublime. In a tiny space — 10 tables? — there were at least 4 wait-staff, and any one of them might be dropping by the table to top up the wine, clear the plates, bring the next course, fill the water glasses, or fold your napkin if you left the table. We never felt rushed, and had a generous amount of time between courses, but didn’t feel like we were waiting around. The restaurant itself is a lesson in space management: a tiny patio in front (rained out the night we were there), the small number of tables inside, a tiny serving bar along one wall for the staff to open wine or pour drinks, and a kitchen that was no bigger than the small one in my condo. The tables are close-packed, but the result is more cozy than cramped.

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