Veni, vidi, amavi

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Su­san Mead­ows The New Mex­i­can

Re­cently re­turned from France and Italy, I headed to Amavi Res­tau­rant. Would new ex­ec­u­tive chef Megan Tucker, who took over the kitchen in March from found­ing chef David Sell­ers, keep the em­pha­sis on western-Mediter­ranean in­spired cui­sine? Tucker worked with Sell­ers at San­ta­café and helped him open Amavi’s kitchen in 2007. I greeted with plea­sure a menu re­plete with fresh fish and lo­cal lamb and poul­try pre­pared with a Mediter­ranean muse.

For­tu­nately, we ar­rived early on a Satur­day night to cadge one of the hand­ful of ta­bles on the charm­ing ter­race, barely larger than a sea­side bal­cony, that over­looks Shelby Street. De­spite three servers for the five ta­bles out­doors, I had to wait for a soup spoon and fi­nally shared (hap­pily) the trio of br­uschetta — roasted beet, unc­tu­ous chicken liver pâté, and goat cheese/tomato. Of course, I didn’t have to worry about my gaz­pa­cho get­ting cold. A re­fresh­ing sum­mer soup of puréed veg­eta­bles, mostly tomato and cu­cum­ber, with bread crumbs and a de­li­cious driz­zle of gar­licky olive oil, it was the Span­ish clas­sic. A fresh gar­nish might have el­e­vated it from sim­ply sat­is­fy­ing to a higher plane, while the leaden zuc­chini blos­som stuffed with goat cheese plopped like a muddy shoal in the cen­ter fell flat.

The only other mis­step came on a rainy sum­mer night when we took refuge in the cozy lounge. The egg­plant Parme­san (with lo­cal ta­zon de llanto, a hard cheese made from raw sheep’s and goat’s milk) is con­structed like a veg­e­tar­ian in­vol­tini — two egg­plant rolls stuffed with ri­cotta. The leath­ery egg­plant, un­der­cooked and taste­less, se­ri­ously un­der­mined the de­li­cious ri­cotta stuff­ing. The gos­samer fet­tuc­cine on which it rested is house-made. Our charm­ing server/bar­tender, adept at play­ing mul­ti­ple roles, joked, “Ev­ery­thing here is made from scratch ex­cept the olives and ca­pers.” The house­made fo­cac­cia is both crunchy and chewy and pro­vided for a tasty dip in olive oil and salt. The desserts merit a visit alone; Tucker be­gan her ca­reer as a pas­try chef, so per­haps that’s no sur­prise. Es­pe­cially good was the house spe­cial French dac­quoise — an ex­trav­a­ganza of crispy al­mond and hazel­nut meringue, cof­fee but­ter­cream, and choco­late ganache. But more sweet stuff later.

The crunchy Cae­sar salad comes with pun­gent an­chovy toasts, but my fa­vorite starter is the lounge menu’s fried cala­mari with a pleas­ant mari­nara. In the main-course cat­e­gory we opted for fresh fish on a hot sum­mer night. The white sea bass floated on a sub­tle and elu­sive white gaz­pa­cho of puréed gar­lic, bread crumbs, vine­gar, and olive oil that seemed to hint of fen­nel, lifted fur­ther by piquillo pep­pers. The wild Alaskan king salmon, stoked with a smear of black olive and gar­lic tape­nade, spoke elo­quently of Provence. Roasted pota­toes and fresh veg­eta­bles shared the per­fect ex­e­cu­tion of the fil­lets. In cooler weather, I’d go for the gen­er­ous and deep-fla­vored Gal­is­teo lamb T-bone with earthy lentils, toma­toes, and baby ar­ti­chokes.

Most desserts could eas­ily be shared, but it’s tough pick­ing just one. Flour­less choco­late cake is al­most fudge with a house-made cherry-vanilla ice cream and cherry sauce. A ri­cotta-and-mas­car­pone tart is sweet with lus­cious cherry con­serves and tangy with le­mon zest. The apri­cot-al­mond but­ter cake with al­mond ice cream is an apri­cot-lover’s de­light. Don’t for­get the dac­quoise.

Som­me­lier Mark John­son isn’t left be­hind in the “house-made” di­vi­sion, con­coct­ing a limon­cello — a le­mon-in­fused di­ges­tive liqueur — that in the hos­pitable Mediter­ranean tra­di­tion is de­liv­ered at the end of the meal. He’s happy to talk about wine, too. We all agreed a Señorío de Sar­ría rosé from Navarra, Spain, was per­fect for the fish, while glasses of Palá­cio Qué­mado Riserva — a sup­ple 100-per­cent Tem­pranillo from Rib­era del Gua­di­ana, Spain — and an in­tense ruby-red Terre­dora Dipaolo Aglian­ico from Cam­pa­nia, Italy, warmed us on the rainy night. Ex­quis­ite apri­cot jel­lies — made from the chef’s neigh­bor’s fruit — sweet­ened the ar­rival of the check.

Tucker’s menu is proof of her be­lief in sus­tain­abil­ity. Amavi par­tic­i­pates in the Farm to Res­tau­rant Project, which sup­plies restau­rants with lo­cal agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, and Tucker is com­mit­ted to us­ing sus­tain­able seafood when pos­si­ble. Her ded­i­ca­tion to in-house prepa­ra­tion and us­ing the fresh­est lo­cal in­gre­di­ents is tastily ev­i­dent, while her com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­ity fa­cil­i­tates guilt-free in­dul­gence.

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