On Friday, my SO and I dined at Amuse Cafe. Given that our favorite restaurant is Zax, which we first loved b/c of Brooke Williamson (former Zax chef and current Amuse co-owner/chef), we were excited to try Brooke's new venture. We went with two equally enthusiastic friends.
Amuse Cafe looks and feels like someone's house - very inviting. The kitchen is right when you walk in. There is an upstairs dining area, an outdoor patio that looks nice, and an upstairs porch. We chose to sit on the front porch.
Right off the bat, things seemed a bit strange. Our waiter just had an odd way about him - awkward is the best term. He did not seem particularly welcoming, and our desire to order one round of small plates prior to ordering additional food did not go over well. In any event, we received 3 small plates - asparagus (excellent), gruyere and onion tart (very good) and calamari salad (decent, but not enough calamari - I've also had much better). The prices did not seem as reasonable after we saw the size of the small plates -they are small indeed.
We were all still starving, as the 3 small plates did not make much of a dent. Also, the pretzel breadsticks were pretty stale, so I gave up on that. After what seemed like an eternity (and I think it was!), our waiter reappeared. Up until that point, he had not checked in at all with us. We were waiting to open our 2nd bottle of wine for a while at that point, and I could tell everyone was feeling a bit frustrated. Still, with the 4 of us chattering away, we tried not to focus on it. We ordered 3 more small plates (I thought 2 plenty but the guys insisted) - ribs, charcuterie and mussels. Then we ordered the chicken and two grilled flat iron steaks. Our waiter wanted to bring all 6 dishes at once, but I thought that would be overwhelming. So we compromised - he agreed to bring us 3 small plates and then bring the entrees 5-10 min later w/o worrying about whether we'd finished the small plates.
Soon we received our small plates. The 2nd set was pretty disappointing - mussels were shriveled a bit and not very flavorful, cured meat plate was just ok, though the ribs were wonderful - really falling off the bone. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, after a long while had passed, our waiter appeared and stated that he's just put our entrees in. Given our previous discussion, we were all dumbfounded - and still pretty hungry.
Finally, the steaks and chicken arrived. We were very surprised by both the quality and the presentation of the food. The steak was just ok. It tasted more like something I would have at home, and the accompaniments - particularly the slightly stale potato chips - did nothing for any of us. The chicken was much better, but still did not wow me. Given Brooke's talent, I expected more.
Because Brooke has a strong bkgd as a pastry chef, we ordered two desserts -the rhubarb and brown butter tart and the chocolate fondue. The tart was dry and had very little flavor. The fondue was a nice concept but it was cold, so it did not seem like fondue at all (our waiter explained that b/c of the potential separation of the chocolate, it could not be served hot. right). AGain, we were let down.
After we'd finally paid (3 1/2 hours after arriving)-- as an aside, it was $130 before tax -- we left and as we drove home, I began to think about how bothered I was. It was not just the food. I know the place opened recently and so perhaps the kitchen is just going through some growing pains. Still, the service I could not forgive. Aside from the exasperating food waits, we had to ask at least twice each time we had our water refilled, and it was never done w/o us asking. Each time, all four of us had empty glasses for a while by the time we flagged someone down. While service issues arise at the start of a restaurant, our waiter did not seem like he was trying and unable to keep up- he just seemed to not care.
We left w/ the collective impression that there was no reason to return to this restaurant. I like to patronize small places trying to do something different, and support those who need it more than the Spagos of the world, but this place seemed to be half-assing it. That, I can't get behind.