Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Philadelphia: Amada Review

My recent visit to Philadelphia happened to coincide with the first night of Restaurant Week there so of course a friend and I took advantage with a visit to Amada, which, according to my friend, is supposed to be the best tapas restaurant in the city.

When we arrived at this chic restaurant in Center City, we had a short wait in the long bar area, where we ordered our drinks: a crisp white Sangria and a violet Tequila martini. It was interesting to watch the violet martini being made, and yes, it was in fact violet. The friendly bartender explained that it was achieved through the addition of a type of pressed French violets, something that had been used around the turn of the 20th century but had disappeared for a long time.

The RW menu offered diners a choice of two from a long list of tapas for the first and second courses, and one of two desserts. The wide selection of tapas to choose from was a huge bonus point. As I am apt to do, I made sure we managed a good mix of dishes to give us a good sense of Amada's food. I love tapas or small plates - the more things I can sample, the better! To round out our RW menus, we added a cheese plate.

With some types of food, I have a particular standard dish that I must try at any new restaurant and with tapas, it's tortilla espaƱola. So that is what we began with:

This tortilla was not traditional. Rather than the common wedge, this was a whole mini tortilla with saffron aioli. The flavor was there, but the texture was odd with what seemed like a slightly tough casing. It wasn't bad, but for something composed of such simple ingredients, I would have preferred to see a traditional take.

Gambas al Ajillo
Another very traditional dish, yet this was much more successful. These arrived at the table still sizzling with the flavor of garlic and chilis seared into the sweet, soft shrimp. The crostini were an absolute necessity to clean up the flavored oil.

Serrano Ham with caperberries, cornichons & french dijon mustard
The ham was light and just slightly salty, a nice backdrop for the strong sides. The mustard was mixed with horse radish, giving it an aggressive bite; the cornichons were very tart; and the caperberries were similar to olives, which no matter how hard I try I cannot bring myself to like.

Roasted vegetables with goat cheese toasts
Quite simple. The vegetables were roasted red peppers, pickled onions and tomatoes.

Chicken breast with truffles & fried egg
This dish was named Madre e Hijo, which translates to Mother and Child and of course plays off of the idea of the chicken and the egg. We broke the egg and let it spill over the juicy chicken. The chicken was surrounded by crispy potatoes that sat on top of the delicious truffle bits.

Grilled calamari
These fell short. The calamari had little evidence by sight or taste of having been grilled. And despite being served with a pesto-like sauce and topped with cilantro, the calamari was too mild, lacking much flavor.

Grilled asparagus with a poached egg, mahon crisp and truffles
The asparagus were cooked well, but the mayonnaise-based sauce was heavy-handed and there was no choice but for the egg to get mixed up with it. The cheese crisp had a great sharp flavor that made me wish for more.

Aged Manchego cheese with truffled lavender honey; Garrotxa Cheese with garlic dulce de leche; Goat cheese with fig & cherry marmalade
The cheeses came at a strange point in the meal because it seemed they had forgotten we'd ordered them. The honey was perfumey, though it did pair well with the mild manchego. The dulce de leche didn't taste of garlic but I did not like it at all. The marmalade and goat cheese were the best match on this plate.

Beef shortrib flatbread with horseradish, parmesan and bacon
The was a salty and sweet combination - the shortrib was topped with sweet caramelized onions and the cheese and bacon provided the salty contrast. And the flatbread had appropriately crispy edges.

When it came time for dessert, the waitress told us that the restaurant had run out of the brown butter cake and that they could replace it with an assortment of sorbets. When the dessert came, we received the passionfruit, guava and blackberry sorbets along with a....brown butter cake. When we asked the waitress about this she seemed baffled and took it away and brought us the Crema Catalana. I thought it was an error on her part not to leave the cake given that it was the restaurant's mistake and that they wouldn't be able to serve that to another table.

The Crema Catalana was a chocolate lavender spanish custard with strawberry gelee and grand marnier whipped cream. The return of the lavender in this dish was very noticeable after having been in the honey and because of that detracted a bit from this dish. Had we not already had lavender in the meal, it would've been a perfectly nice, gentle flare for the chocolate.

While Amada didn't manage to top any of my favorite New York City tapas spots, it still managed to impress by serving up a good mix of traditional and more modern tapas.

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