Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amour for Ame

Ahhhh, the first review of 2010!  And guess what?  My camera sucks balls so I don't really have any photos to share with you.  But rest assured: the food at Ame looked just as amazing as it tasted.

So where to start?  Well, the Rubino brothers (Guy and Michael) have long been Toronto culinary darlings.  The big first hit that propelled them ahead was the opening of Zoom in '97.  This followed by Rain which opened in '01 (the food of which I enjoyed, though found the whole experience almost too pristine) and had several years of success before relaunching in September of 2009 as Ame.  And, since Ame had been on my list for a number of months,  finally this Friday night, me and 7 of my friends went.

First, the visual transformation of the space is impressive.  The design is fluent and organic with its use of wood and see-through dividers.  The high ceilings and beautiful Oriental tapestry add to the dramatic beauty of the room.  I immediately spot both Guy and Michael, seemingly lording over both employees and guests.  They don't look terribly happy, but then I guess they are perfectionists in execution and it isn't playtime.

The menu boasts an excellent range from sushi, sashimi and nigiri to hot pot, ramen and tempura plus a divine range of salads and mains.  There is a LOT to choose from, but the point of the menu is to share.  And while I'm getting somewhat tired of 'share plates', share we do.  Oh ... one important point to make: Ame is not as much of a financial commitment as you may think.  For 8 people, each with a couple cocktails and plenty of dishes, tax and tip included came to $61 each.  Totally reasonable.

So, here comes the good part.  The food.  Oh, the tasty food.  We order some spicy tuna and spicy crab sushi.  We order shrimp and mushroom and kabocha squash tempura (and an order of brussel sprouts we did not order arrives, but since they can't figure out who it was intended for, they give it to us).  Each comes on a torturous-looking wooden plank with nails sticking out, but it's the perfect vessel to ensure each piece stays crisp and light.  They are paired with their own delightful sauces like black bean (for the mushroom), and a tasty wasabi sauce for the shrimp.  With the exception of the mushroom being on the slightly oily side, they're all delicious.

For a 'main', I ordered the pork ribs with matsu apple and soy caramel.  In a word: phenomenal.  A bit spicy, a bit sweet, all succulent.  This is the only picture I took (I gave up afterwards ... you can figure out for yourself why), but it was all plated beautifully.  The Wagyu short ribs were very flavourful, though overcooked and slightly dry.  For salad I order the white and green asparagus with teriyaki; it's hot and cold and has the perfect amount of seasoning.  Yum!  Next arrives the salmon belly sashimi; it's probably the freshest salmon I've ever eaten.  Each dish was devoured in full, and met by rave reviews by everyone at the table.

Aside from a couple mishaps on the food, my only gripe is the service was somewhat lacking in attentiveness.  After a steady influx of dishes, we suddenly go dark for 10-15 minutes, missing 3 of our dishes.  But where is our server?  And, when we were ready to leave (and had indicated so in asking for plates to be cleared), where was our bill?  The restaurant wasn't packed and there were several wait staff milling about.  It's a small miss, but one I remember.  Any why did Michael walk the room a number of times without ever once addressing us to ask how our meals were?  Maybe stardom has taken some of the charm out of guest interaction.

So the skinny is this: go to Ame.  It's incredible value.  The space is impressive.  The food, even more.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cooking is Love

Today was a sad day for me, as I bid adieu to my past-three-month roommate, friend, fellow cook and my one and only brother, Chris.  After much deliberation, he decided to take a great job and move back to Vancouver.  I can't blame him, really.  It was the right move.  Nevertheless, selfishly I wish he was still here; the house a little more empty today.

As everybody in life has experienced, the sad times offer you an opportunity to reflect.  They enrich your appreciation for what was.  They make happy memories feel that much happier.  And today as I sit, multitasking between work and Izzy (my dog) and The Food Network on the TV and my blog, it made me think about one thing Chris and I shared most (besides being generally idiotic and silly): the love of cooking food.

Not just 'food'.  Not just something to pile into your mouth.  Not just the fastest, cheapest, easiest thing we could make.  REAL food.  The kind of food you sit down to appreciate, to take pause and enjoy creating, to have desire in sharing with others.  You see, Chris and I both love to make others happy, and one of the best ways we know how is by cooking a great meal.

Cooking is an extension of you.  Cooking is putting all your efforts on a plate for another to savour.  Cooking lets you bring joy to others.  Cooking can give you quality time, because cooking should not be rushed.  It doesn't mean you need to be a slave to a meal, but take a minute to really let yourself be IN the moment of cooking; I bet (or I hope?) you'll find it can be relaxing and fun and creative.

So try it for me.  Find a recipe you think you'll enjoy.  Go out and get the ingredients.  Better still, just take a gander at what's in your pantry and pick out what looks like will go well together - and just take a leap and create something new.  Put on your favourite music.  Open a bottle of wine.  Invite someone close to you to join in.  I think you'll find, that through sharing thoughts on how to tweak a recipe (as Chris and I often do), sharing the tasks needed to get done, and then sharing in the enjoyment of the meal, you'll agree: cooking is love.

Chris, Mom and Me ... cooking together, Christmas 2009.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Year Ahead

Well, here we are.  Hello, 2010, it's nice to see you.  I've been so used to the "oh-number" years (you know, '09, '08, '07 ... you get the idea), the "ten" doesn't seem to fit quite right.  But whatever we call you (I'm gunning for "two-ten"), I think you'll bring some good things.  Like growth in my favourite new project and hobby, The Restaurant Club.

2009 was the year I founded The Restaurant Club.  It came to me while driving to a client meeting; I went home that night, got onto Facebook, and started the group.  Just like that (which is quite unlike my professional life, where far more planning would have gone into the idea).  I think The Restaurant Club is really still in its infancy stages.  I'm still figuring out just what it is I want to do with it beyond the dinners, the recipes, the reviews and general foodie news.  It makes me no money, but it sure does bring me a lot of joy.  And fun.  Which is perfect, because my word for 2010 is "funjoy".  A very close friend encouraged us to find our 'word' for the year.  The word that might be a beacon for our life's decisions.  The mantra for our actions.  What it is we're expecting from the year.  And since I couldn't pick between 'fun' and 'joy', I made a word up.  So, year of funjoy, year of more Restaurant Club, year of new experiences and another chapter, welcome.

As I reflect on where TRC is at now, I'm proud of the accomplishments.  I am incredibly thankful for my Facebook fans, for my Twitter followers, for my loyal group of TRC dinner guests, and for the readers of this blog.  It really is a time when just about everyone is a foodie, everyone has an opinion on the culinary world, and everyone is becoming an expert on cooking and eating and shopping and dining.  I don't feel really all that different from anyone else, and so this is part of my challenge for 2010.  What makes me different?  Why read what I have to say over anyone else?  Apart from my amazing group of friends who were my number one fans from the beginning (and who probably would be fans, even if I wrote about the science of dog shit or some other asinine topic), who really wants to follow me?  To cook what I cook?  To visit the restaurants I recommend?  To take my foodie advice?  Well, I'd like to think the answer is 'anyone'.  Certainly not everyone - that would be pompous and frankly unattainable.  But what I hope for is that just about anyone might find a nugget of useful information, might enjoy my writing, and might take pleasure in making one of my recipes.

In 2010, I plan to get my TV show idea into the hands of someone who can actually produce it (it's a food show, of course ... I happen to think it's a good one).  I plan to become a better cook.  I plan to be a better writer.  I plan to make more connections.  I plan to try new things.  And, I plan to do it all with funjoy.

So, thank you all for your support.  Thank you for sharing an interest with me.  And, thank you for indulging me.