Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Part Two: Did Chef Jose Garces Reign Supreme in Amada?

As I said yesterday, we didn't have the greatest service in the world at Amada and I felt like I was sitting on the floor until I propped myself up on cushions, but how was the food? Mostly very enjoyable.

It is a tapas joint, though, so with the exception of four main course type Especialidades de la Casa (Lobster Paella, Chuleta for 2, Paella Valenciana, Cochinillo Asado - Whole Roasted Suckling Pig for 4 or more, the last must be ordered in advance) the rest of menu is made up of little plates of fish, vegetables, cheeses and typical Spanish savories with some salads and soups to round out the menu. In other words, it's not your traditional limited selection of starters and some main courses. It's mostly ALL tapas, which is why it's fun to go with a group of people.

I started with my usual - a Cosmo. Our less than perfect waiter asked what kind of vodka I would like and I said my normal one: Absolut Citron. "We don't have that," or words to that effect. Ok fine, whatever. He said, "Grey Goose?" I said fine. The Cosmo was good, except for the fact that the bill said "Belvedere Cytrus"! So WHY suggest one vodka to me and then put in another?!!

Plus I just love looking UP at my cocktail.

The food:
Tortilla Española - Wonderful, non-greasy (although I don't mind a little grease) rendition of the classic Spanish potato omelet. The pieces were too big, though, I would have preferred less thick, smaller ones. Nice aioli on the side. (I should have stuck the saffron that was sitting on top in my purse.)

The Boquerones were delicious. They are marinated fresh anchovies with none of the prickly saltiness of their preserved cousins. They were delicate, soft, luscious and mild.

Pulpo a la Gallega - Octopus - was spiced nicely with lots of paprika. It was tender and meaty. Not crispy, the octopus in this dish is traditionally boiled and then finished with paprika and olive oil.

The Gazpacho was enhanced with watermelon. HEY! Did Chef Garces think of that AFTER the Iron Chef's Melon Challenge? This menu has been in place for awhile, I think, so I guess it just coincidence. This was, I believe, a typical tomato gazpacho enhanced with watermelon. You could certainly taste the watermelon. It was a different take on a classic, but I like my gazpacho sharp from the vinegar and the watermelon takes the edge off. It was garnished with Queso de Cabra, a goat cheese, which was a nice addition.

The chorizo was a huge disappointment. It was served in the skinniest of slices looking like prepackaged pepperoni for a pizza. More often, chorizo is fried in chunks and served in a shallow earthenware dish with gorgeous pimentón colored drippings waiting to be mopped up by crusty bread. Chorizo should be spicy and strong and, yes, greasy. This chorizo was like a Lean Cuisine version, probably more virtuous, but with none of the punch or need for extra napkins.

The Arroz con Langosta was a veritable feast for the eyes, with all kinds of goodies on top. It was made with bomba rice, which is like the superhero of rice varieties. It expands sideways as it cooks (instead of the usual lengthwise) and it absorbs about a third more liquid than other rices, so it becomes more flavorful than the usual short-grained paella rice. I loved the egg yolk on top. I often eat left over rice dishes with a fried egg on top, so this suited me just fine. Frankly, this dish is all about the rice, so the lobster and clams, to me anyway, were incidental.

There certainly were some foams happening on the Iron Chef. This Salmón con Alcachofas (artichokes) was the only dish we had with effervescence. Honestly, I didn't like the way this plate looked. I don't want to compare it to the washed up detritus on the banks of the Hudson, (plus my out-of-focus picture doesn't help) but it's not attractive. The Alaskan King Salmon was well cooked. The foam did nothing for me, plus we weren't given spoons, so it's a good thing I didn't want to lap it up.

Setas, or mushrooms, are a muy tipico starter in Spain. These wild mushrooms were a nice rendition - meaty, not too salty, cooked simply to showcase the mushroom without a lot of hoopla.

I loved the Espárragos con Trufas. The asparagus was grilled and served alongside a perfectly poached egg. Mahón (a Spanish cow's milk cheese from, you got it, Mahón) was turned into a crispy wafer-thin fricco. The thin white sauce on top unified everything and added a silken texture to the crunchy Mahón, crispy asparagus and smooth egg. And the truffles were fine, but again here, as with the lobster in the rice dish, not essential.

Dessert began with Crema Catalana. It's spelled "Creme Catalana" on the menu - a tip of the hat to the French crème brûlée, perhaps. This is Spain's version. I love them both, but to me, Crema Catalan is the more perfect of the two, maybe because it's thicker and able to be unmolded and it's not found everywhere.

Crème brûlée is usually made with cream, egg yolks and sugar and then baked. Crema Catalan is made with whole milk, egg yolks and sugar and thickened with cornstarch. I've always loved it and this version was delicious. Luckily, the lavendar, which the dessert was flavored with and I don't love, didn't overpower the custard. It was rich, smooth, not oversweet and beautifully presented with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream. The crunch was provided by a skinny pastry tuile. Berries finished off the plate perfectly.

Our other dessert was Arroz Con Leche. I didn't like the color that black currant gave the rice pudding, but it added a nice flavor. There was a drop of Lemon Confit on the top that I could eaten a bucket of and 2 crossed tuiles with plenty of cinnamon sprinkled everywhere. Nice homey dessert, not showstopping like the Crema.

Why have I left the Patatas Bravas for last? Because our waiter did. The spicy potatoes did actually come out before we ordered dessert, but they seemed like an afterthought. We told our runner we were waiting for one more dish. The waiter came over and said "Oh, don’t worry, it’ll be right out," as he “checked” the computer, or, perhaps, put it in for the first time. There were no apologies, either on his behalf or the kitchen, and we were practically on the way to the car before they came out, piping hot and obviously made seconds ago.

It might sound like I hated the place. I didn't. Our waiter was a pain and the seating was ridiculous, but the food was mostly very tasty and it's a fun place. I would definitely go back, asking to be seated in a different section, of course.

Another good thing is that the menu has so many choices that I could order 10 different dishes several times over and never have the same thing twice.

One more thing, the chef himself wasn't in the kitchen. That's okay. He obviously had other fish to fry, but I have no doubt that he left behind a well-trained staff, except for that one guy that loved to point.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

That’s pretty weird about saying they’ll give you one vodka and they give you another (?) I really want that cosmo though.

Lol on stealing the saffron!

I find the idea of watermelon in gazpacho intriguiging. But maybe that’s because I made gazpacho earlier this week and I’ve been eating it for lunch every day (with avocado chunks) and I could use a little variation! Too bad about the chorizo though. There used to be a tapas place in my neighborhood that did a great chorizo with a red wine sauce, but after my husband got what he suspects is food poisoning there, we never went back. The place eventually closed.

When you first said the potatoes came out late, I really thought you were going to say they came out after dessert. Now that would be really bad service!

Sue said...

Hi Rach,
I'm so bad. I WANTED you to think the potatoes came out dead last and they WOULD HAVE if we hadn't said anything.

Gazpacho with avocado. THAT'S heaven.

Emiline said...

I agree with Rachel - I want that cosmo! It's pretty.

I think everything sounds good. But of course, I REALLY want dessert. I want to try the Crema Catalan. That's interesting about the cornstarch. I recently made flan, but I wasn't crazy about it. I think I prefer just yolks in a custard, rather than eggs and yolks.
And I love rice pudding!

Sue said...

You WOULD have loved the Crema Catalan. Of course, you could whip up something like that in seconds, I'm sure. So get started!

Lys said...

When I was in Philly last month, I made a point to go there instead of my usual favorite haunts. While I didn't take pics (booo to me), I absolutely LOVED the food. I'm going to make sure I go next trip as well - and I sat at the bar so didn't have to worry about the low seats :)

The pics and descriptions were great. I wasn't so much a fan of the ham croquettes but the shortrib flatbread and the spicy potatos - divine. Their bartender actually inspired my spiced apple/cranberry sangria that I served for NYE.

Great post Sue!