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by Chrissy Loader on Feb 22, 2007
Co-owners and chefs of St. Helena’s Terra Restaurant, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani expanded their wine country operations in 2006 by creating a distinctly urban destination: Ame Restaurant in the luxurious St. Regis Hotel. As SFMOMA’s nearest neighbor, Ame’s décor is spare and modern with an austere kitchen that opens to a posh sashimi bar. The teak floors and sleek, comfortable furnishings reflect the best in design, backing up the steep price point while providing a setting that is unfussy and inviting.
This atmosphere reflects Ame’s presentation and menu choices, rich in clean, fresh seasonal ingredients that draw from Sone’s Japanese heritage and the chefs’ American and European influences. The menu includes inventive combinations and everything from sashimi, tartare, and ceviche to organic quail eggs, American sturgeon caviar and Mountain Caviar (also know as tonburi). Luxury meats, creative starches and dear vegetables round out the menu.
Ame’s service is both friendly and informative. With our server’s guidance, we began our meal with the Tartare of Lightly Smoked Tasmanian Ocean Trout (a luscious fish recently enjoyed by the editors at Cindy Pawlcyn's new-ish Go Fish in St. Helena -- is Tasmanian Ocean Trout the new "it" menu item?) The trout was served in fine slices and was incredibly fresh; it was presented with Wasabi Panna Cotta and American Sturgeon Caviar ($19) from the sashimi bar; the caviar provided a nice, salty contrast to the fish.
We also shared a traditional Japanese dish, “Chawan Mushi", a novel combination of textures: a Maine Lobster is cooked in savory custard and served in a porcelain-lidded crock, garnished with Nameko Mushrooms and Mitsuba Sauce ($17).
Our waiter also recommended one of the specials of the night -- an appetizer made with fresh gnocchi, an organic egg, and shaved truffle ($20). Alongside the other starters, the gnocchi was the true standout -- served with a touch of Parmesan, the combination of egg, potato, and pungent truffle made for a deceitfully simple opening to our meal.
For main courses, we ordered the Grilled Hokkaido Scallops, Lobster Tail and Cuttlefish in "Cioppino" Sauce with Dungeness Crab Bruschetta ($37), as well as the Broiled Sake-Marinated Alaskan Black Cod and Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth ($31). To sample the meatier offerings, we asked for the Porchetta on Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto with Natural Jus and Truffle ($34).
We found the scallops and cuttlefish tasty, but the cioppino sauce and the somewhat runny mashed potatoes were not the best fusion of North Beach and Middle America. The cod and the porchetta, on the other hand, were definitely the better entrée choices. The Alaskan Black Cod, considered one of Sone’s signature dishes, was flavorful and bright. The porchetta, a combination of pork shoulder, loin, and belly, rolled and sliced, then served atop chanterelle risotto with black truffles and crispy bits of roasted pork belly as garnish, was filling and completely decadent.
The dessert selection reflected the most American-centric aspect of the menu and included Huckleberry Pie with Lemon Crème Fraiche ($10), Warm Gateau Au Chocolat with Caramel Ice Cream and “Cracker Jacks” ($10), and Okinawa Doughnuts -- lovely, cinnamon-flavored doughnut holes -- with a shot of rich Coffee Shake ($10). Ame’s wine list was extensive and included an assortment of fine sakes and everything from a reasonably priced Robert Sinsky to an exorbitant Barbaresco.
Yes, a meal at Ame is pricey, maybe even prohibitively -- sort of like the Champagne you’ll find at the lovely adjacent St. Regis Bar. Also, if your dishes are not paired properly, and you order too lightly, you might leave Ame wishing you’d indulged in one more Okinawa Doughnut to stave off the need for a midnight snack. Nevertheless, we found a meal at Ame to be an adventure, a luxury, and an event to be savored and relished; it is truly a culinary experience like no other.
Reservations Essential? Yes
689 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Hours: Daily, 11:30am - 2pm & 6pm - 10pm
by Chrissy Loader on Feb 22, 2007