A beautiful abode for sophisticated bites
Claim to fame: Chef-led dining that makes no sacrifices in service
Reason to go: Adventure, intimacy and imagination in an unusually delicious package
To look out for: Exceptional drinks pairings, both alcoholic and otherwise
Twenty years ago, the first thing a waiter might’ve put in front of you at a fine-dining restaurant was a demitasse of soup, and probably a creamy soup at that. Take your seat at Amaru, and perhaps even before you order a drink, a chef or two appears at the table with a small bowl, into which gets poured a mysterious liquid. Potato and leek, maybe? Cauliflower with a hint of cheddar? Perish the thought. It’s transparent, for one thing, and the scent hits you even before you lift the china to your lips, bright and clear. “An infusion of wild aromatics,” the fellow at the table says, miraculously without a hint of ridiculousness.
And so it goes at Amaru. The food is involved, and requires some terribly serious work to put together, and there’s rigor evident in everything from the design of the room (tastefully contemporary, the art less muted than the deft management of the noise profile), to the bread (superb, dense of crust and airy of crumb, complemented with a whipped, but otherwise unmolested, good butter) and the placemats (deer leather, naturally). The service, whether it’s from the chefs bringing the food to the table in careful concert to the actual table-waiting professionals running the show, is well drilled and very professional.
And yet. And yet it doesn’t seem like one of those places where the dining room is there in service of the kitchen. And it’s not a place beyond listing some wines on the (excellent) by the glass list under a heading like “fun”. And it’s not a place where the people working the tables aren’t empowered to go off script. And as a result, Amaru is a perfectly merry place to be. (Or at least as merry as things get in tasting-menu land.)
It helps, of course, that pretty much everything is delicious. As is the way in restaurants like this in our day and age, things kick off with a quick flurry of snacks. Right after the wild-herb tea thing lands a series of small plates: a cracker holding garfish on a dollop of sheep’s milk yoghurt, flecked with leaves of dill and petals of pickled onion; shavings from the cured leg of a pig that was fed on chestnuts; a gleaming arrangement of trout roe, apple, kohlrabi and smoked eel on a fine tart shell; curls of lightly smoked duck ham on a swatch of crisped-up fermented carrot.
What’s the difference between the Sensory menu and the Insight menu? Wags will say “about $65 a head” – and they wouldn’t be wrong – but beyond that, it’s six courses versus 10, with that brace of snacks preceding things either way, and both menus closing with some smart little petits fours of the order of olive-oil pastilles and squares of fudge flavored with shiitake mushroom to surprising success. (Oh, and on Saturday nights the full Sensory box and dice is the only menu on offer.)
Throw in some damned impressive drinks (even the non-alcoholic pairings are thoughtful, nuanced and delicious) and it’s easy to see why Amaru has quickly become one of the hottest tables in town.