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Ame: Chic eats

AmelogogreenWe had the great pleasure of joining a couple of friends for dinner at Ame last night. The San Francisco debut of husband-and-wife owners of Napa Valley’s acclaimed Terra has generated scads of buzz since its opening, and I’ve been very curious.

First off, it’s pronounced AH-may, not AHM, as I had thought. Evidently Japanese instead of French, though they don’t offer a translation. (I think it’s rain?) Like the rest of the lobby of the chic, new St. Regis hotel and residences, Ame is clad in clean, modern lines and understated tones of mahogany and cream. While the dining room is not enormous, the tables are well spaced and set at angles, so you never feel like you’re in your neighbor’s lap — a major pet peeve of mine.

We started off with cocktails — a couple of negronis and cosmos — which were perfectly fine, if a little steep at $12-14 per. Our waiter struck us immediately as a bit green, prattling off the specials rapidly and nervously, then delivering the cocktails to the wrong people. We exchanged glances and let it roll off our backs.

The menu is intriguing, equal parts Japanese and European. But rather than these influences fusing together, each dish seems steeped in its own cultural brew. For example, there’s an entire section of sashimi, clearly Japanese, yet there were no fewer than three dishes that included or starred ravioli. Mushrooms of both Eastern and Western provenance featured prominently. While the menu is heavily seafood-focused, there are poultry and meat dishes as well, though no vegetarian options that I could discern.

While mulling over the menu, we were assisted by the handsome sommelier with the charming Western African accent. Knowing that we would be ordering things from both land and sea, he steered us toward a lovely Burgundy (the name of which eludes me, and is not present on their online wine list). It had a bright, fruity nose with a faint earthiness and enough acidity to cut through the some of the richer dishes, yet never overpowered the seafood. A very satisfactory pairing. Note: at $82, this bottle was positively mid-range for the list.

We each had an appetizer and an entree: DPaul started with the much-touted "tuna five", five separate preparations of tuna, from raw to dried to seared, each unique and tantalizing. Each preparation was petit, so I was only able to taste the poke, which was delightful. Nick and Russ each had ravioli — one lamb, the other duck; they swapped halfway through and discovered that they were happier with each others’ dishes in the end. I had a smoked ocean trout with cucumber salad, crème fraîche and salmon roe. I enjoyed it thoroughly — the fish was not over-smoked, still moist yet firm; the cucumber salad lent a nice, fresh crunch; the crème fraîche softened the edges and the salmon roe created pleasing bursts of tastes of the sea. Thumbs up!

If the appetizer left me sitting on the shores of Japan (or even Australia), my grilled quail with forest mushrooms over polenta transported me light-speed to Tuscany. The quail was smoky yet moist and the mushrooms bursting with earthy flavor; unfortunately, the polenta was too loose for my taste, so much so that it was impossible to get any substantial amount of it on the fork, so most of it stayed on the plate at the end. DPaul had the broiled, sake-marinated black cod with shrimp dumplings (read: ravioli) in shiso broth — a dish that would have followed my appetizer especially well, and did so for his just fine. The cod was perfectly cooked, the glaze subtly sweet and the broth warming. Another winner.

Nick ordered the special of the night, squab on a puree of Italian broad beans with salsa verde. It was quite rare and extremely rich; one of these would have sufficed for two people. Richness was what prevented me from ordering what Russ had, the eel with grilled foie gras on matsutake risotto. In retrospect I should have thrown caution to the wind and gotten it just the same. From the first bite, he took on an epiphanous, faraway look. The wee sample I had of the foie was ideal — fluffy yet firm, crisp, sweet and delicious.

We split between us just two desserts (well, okay, and some drinks): The pear crisp with pecan streusel and gingersnap ice cream ended up being all about the ice cream for me, surprisingly gingery. Similarly, the warm chocolate cake with sugar beet ice cream again drew all my attention to the ice cream — brilliant magenta and intriguingly beet-y and sweet. The chocolate cake didn’t have a chance.

Overall, an excellent dining experience and a lovely way to spend an evening with good friends. However, it does run a hair pricey. (Our tab ran about $100/person before tip.) The minor service peccadilloes we encountered (there were others not mentioned above), would be excusable at a neighborhood establishment. No doubt they’ll iron out those kinks in time.

689 Mission St, at 3rd

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