CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I Want Candy (Ame -- San Francisco, CA)

So from what I could find, Ame means "candy" or "rain" in Japanese. Based on my experiences at the lovely Ame, with it's jewel like sashimi presentations, I thought candy was the more appropriate moniker.

Ame is the new brainchild of Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, the folks behind the supremely delicious Terra in Napa.

Ame is located in the appropriately hip St. Regis hotel. Normally, the atmosphere would be way too much of a scene for me, but since the food is so delicious, I have been twice now in about as many weeks. The space is ultra trendy and chic and all those other things that usually make me throw up in my mouth a little bit. But as I said, it's all good. And by that, I mean everything I've eaten on the menu.

My first visit was on the evening of Jon's company Christmas party, when we dined with Brian, one of his co-workers and Brian's super rad partner, Doug. We were all dressed up and shit and it turned out to be a good thing (more on that later). We sat at an actual table. The second time was with our partners in crime, sitting at the bar before trying to catch a movie.

Let me start with service, as it's the least consistent thing about Ame. The hosts/hostesses couldn't be nicer. On both visits, they were super awesome and get an A+ all the way. The servers are a little less so.

Our first server took forever to attend to us. Drink orders, food orders, etc...everything took way too long. Now, he had a semi-good reason (are you curious yet?), but not good enough to neglect us as he did. He was also just a total bitch. By the end of the meal, he had warmed up to us, but it was way too much fucking work.

The server we had at the bar, was also a bitch, but he warmed up a lot faster. I think he got a kick out of our foursome, and not only expedited our order so we could make it to our movie, but brought us an extra churro since the order comes with three and there were four of us. We didn't even request it, nor did he charge us. So it all worked out there, too. But would it really kill them to be nice off the bat?

This is especially surprising considering what a sweet, sweet man Chef Sone is. He was in the dining room on our first visit and we grabbed him to thank him. He couldn't have been more adorable and gracious. He fucking rocks.

A word about the prices: these are Boulevard prices we're dealing with here. I didn't pay much attention the first time as it was a fancy night out, but the second time it struck me as steep. Not that the food isn't great, but it's difficult to pay $14/$15 for sashimi presentations, no matter how spectacular they are (and they are). But I bet I'll be back before you know it, despite the prices because it's so bitchin'.

And now here's why:

I'll start with the sashimi bar items. Between the two visits, someone we know has eaten almost every item in this category. First, the "Tuna Five": Tataki, Zuke, Tartare, Bottarga and Mojama. Brian had this and really dug most of it. The Mojama was a bit too out there, but the rest was delicious, with the Tartare being the standout. Fine little chunks of marinated tuna that melt in your mouth. Outstanding.

We've had the "Poke" twice now. It's a combination of chopped fish (on one visit, it was ahi, fluke and hamachi) wrapped in rice and lightly fried nori. It comes with a sauce flavored with shiso. This may be my favorite thing on the whole menu. It is truly spectacular.

The "Crudo," however, can give that poke a run for it's money. Thinly sliced fish with Meyer lemon, sea salt and olive oil, it is the most voluptuous dish $16.50 can buy. On our first visit it was tombo (my absolute fave), on the second I think it was snapper, although I'm not sure. Something white and good.

Jon loves the “Ceviche” with Bird’s Eye Chili, Water Melon Radish and Yuzu. Again, the fish changes. Both times we've had it, though, I think it's been fluke. And it's been good. I find it to be less powerful than the others, but Jon digs it.

Fatemeh dug into “Lissa’s Staff Meal” Cuttlefish Noodles Tossed with Sea Urchin, Quail Eggs, Wasabi and Soy Sauce. It looked fantastic, but I never dipped in my chopsticks. Jon couldn't keep his out of it. For my part, I was macking on her Burrata with Artichokes, Castel Franco and Garum. God, I fucking love Burrata. Whoever came up with the idea to wrap mozzarella around it's own curd should be knighted. I expect to see it at Delfina and A16, but I didn't expect it at Ame. And they really did it justice.

We got entrees the first time we went and Jon's was Sone's very famous Sake Marinated Black Cod with Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth. This is an incredible dish. Just awesome. I wouldn't choose that over what I got, though, which was the Grilled Hokkaido Scallops, Cuttlefish and Lobster Tail with Lemon Garlic Parsley Butter. Just absolutely unbelievable. If you've never had Hokkaido scallops, get yourself some now. Sweet, succulent and sexy as hell. This dish was a show stopper.

Colin's had the "Crabonara," Brian the Beef Cheeks and Doug the pork. I heard no complaints.

The wine and cocktail lists are pretty decent. The Pomegranate Ginger cosmopolitan is a winner, although the Red Snapper (their version of a Bloody Mary) is not. Fatemeh had a lovely Fouet Cremant, and I a very nice J. Leitz Reisling. Jon and I also had a bottle of Robert Sinskey Abraxas despite having bottles at home (we're members of their wine club) because it's just so freakin' good. And it's a good value, which rocks my world, because I have a hard time justifying buying very expensive wines in restaurants. It's just the principle of the whole thing.

And now I'll give you some sugar. The two standout desserts would have to be the aforementioned churros and hot chocolate, as well as the frozen yogurt souffle with mango sauce. But share them, because the dessert portions are a good size and you don't want to puke on the table. You laugh, but my husband has done it before (if you don't hear from me for awhile, it's because he killed me for telling you that).

And now for the moment you've been waiting for...

On our first visit, we were very distracted, and as I mentioned, so was the server, because at the communal table in the corner was Ted Allen.

Now the totally fucked up thing is that despite having a season pass to Queer Eye, Jon and I haven't watched an episode in forever. But I came home that day and Jon paused the Tivo (a.k.a. THE GREATEST THING EVER INVENTED. Seriously, if you don't have one, you should get one RIGHT NOW. They're like $50 during the holidays...) to say hello. I immediately started accusing him of watching porn, but it was simply the Queer Eye episode where they makeover a nudist.

So when Ted got up to leave, I, of course, said "Ted!" And I'm told what followed was the most graceful celebrity interaction to ever take place. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back. It went a little like this:

ME: I'm so sorry to bother you, but we just wanted to tell you we are big fans.

TED: Oh, thank you so much.

JON: Did you enjoy your meal?

TED: It was fantastic -- how about you?

ME: Oh yes. We were so happy to see you because we were just watching an episode at home.

TED: Oh, good, keep watching -- the new season starts on Tuesday.

ME: We will. It was the nudist episode.

TED: (touching me on the arm!) Oh, I love that episode!

ME: Well, we just wanted to say we're fans -- enjoy your night.

TED: Thank you so much -- enjoy your meal!

He seemed way more relaxed, and, well, cool than he does on the show. So that was our little celeb sighting.

So Ame has been good to us, for the most part. Super food, brushes with greatness and the most charming owner you ever did see. Now if only they could do something about those bitchy servers...


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love Ame!
Love Lissa!
Love Hiro!

I had the tuna five ways and thought it was the best thing I ever ate. But then I had the beef cheeks with sweebread cultet and cauliflower puree and now that is still the best thing I ever ate.

12/20/2005 3:04 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

there is just one part of this story that doesn't make sense... fatemeh and the quail egg? is she ok with hard boiled then?
I am so confused but i am going to go to Ame anyway. next year sometime

12/20/2005 4:27 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

Sam --

Fatemeh will only eat eggs if they are hard boiled yet this one was not. It was mixed in like a sauce, so she managed to maintain:).

12/20/2005 4:32 PM  
Blogger Amy Sherman said...

Great review! I am dying to try Ame, I went to one of the opening parties and had my own celebrity encounter in which I met the mayor and set him up with a girlfriend of mine. Seriously!

By the way, I'm a big Ted fan, I swear he must have had one serious dermabrasion though, watch him this season. His face is smooth as a babies bottom.

12/20/2005 5:39 PM  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

it sounds like Lissa & Hiro are back in the kitchen and having a lot of fun. Terra has always left me underwhelmed, but like you, I really like and appreciate them as people so I was excited to see them opening something away from the country.

(Try Living in Napa! It's not so exciting when you are waking up there everyday.)

12/20/2005 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll eat them scrambled (and used as a ketchup delivery system), too!!

The cuttlefish was my LEAST favorite thing we ate, and that was amazing. The watermelon radish whoozeewhatsit was wicked-good.

I do think it's pretty important to note, though, that St. Regis pricing is in full force here. Still, it's the most interesting appetizer/crudo/sashimi menu I've seen in a long, long time.

12/20/2005 11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ate at Ame recently and thought it was pretty much the best meal I have ever had. The poke was absolutely amazing. For and entree I had the cod and even though I was already full from the tasty sweetbread stew appitizer I could have had five more of those filets. Something about the marinade. Like a party in my mouth. My friend and I were laughing all night about the "monkey" that apparently comes with the banana split. We ordered a hot fudge sundae to share with monkey on the side. It was a little chocolate wafer shaped like a monkey hanging off the glass. It was the perfect topper to the most delicious meal.

9/01/2006 6:54 PM  
Blogger The Tens said...

Hey, me and Katie saw Ted at Chow last year. We didn't talk to him though. We are scared like that.

11/21/2006 11:32 AM  

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