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Restaurants & Bars 5

Amuse Cafe - Review (long)

LAmonkeygirl | Apr 4, 200508:33 PM

On Saturday, Z. and I went to Amuse, our first time. We had a 7:30 reservation and had to wait around 5 to 10 minutes for our table upstairs. Our table, when we were shown to it, was at the railing just next to the stairs. All night, the waitstaff and assorted employees sprinted up and down said staircase. They must have amazing legs.

For those that haven't been, Amuse is small, with only a dozen or so tables inside. I think there may have been an upstairs patio, too, but I didn't explore to find out. I thought that perhaps the smallness would lead to a quiet, intimate dinner, but I realized at once I would never be able to take my somewhat deaf stepfather there--the noise was substantial. Bare wooden walls and small size: Z. and I had to repeat ourselves several times to be heard above the din.

I didn't mind the server immediately assuming we wanted a bottle of water, since I did, in fact, want bottled sparkling water. Z. had a bottle of organic Hefeweizen. We didn't get any plates for our bread, so the inevitable pile of crumbs collected on the tablecloths. Z. ordered the short rib that came with "mustard spaetzel," which we saw later meant spaetzel with mustard greens. I decided to try some of the small dishes: smoked trout with tomato toast and the beets with cauliflower and "gooey brie."

Sampling Z.'s dish, it was very, very good: exceptionally tender with a nice carmelized crust. The mustard greens gave the spaetzel a good textural contrast, vegetable amidst the pleasant carbohydrate chew of the dumplings.

As the server had warned me, the trout small plate was indeed small. The trout was served cold in several chunks, a yo-yo sized puff of pastry with a slice of tomato on it came alongside, as well as a frizz of greens. The smoked trout was cool and earthy, the sort of thing that would go well on a really terrific bagel, and though the tomato immediately came off the puff pastry, I enjoyed eating the "toast."

The beets were warm, although they cooled quickly, and came with small curds of cauliflower that had a pleasant funkiness. Again, more wild green frizz on top, and the barest hint of the promised "gooey brie." Here I had been anticipating (with not a little trepidation/shame/desire) a giant, melted swath of cheese, and instead played treasure hunt. At least when I did find the brie, I was pleased to see it.

But even though I am not a big eater, I was still somewhat hungry, and, at Z.'s urging, ordered a hot small plate. When trying to decide between the carmelized onion tart and the scallop risotto, the waiter said he loved the tart, so tart it was. I was given a plate with a little haystack of spinach salad on one side, and two isosceles triangles of more puff pastry laden with golden brown onions. Now here was satisfaction. I actually couldn't finish the last edge of one tart and felt pleasantly full without discomfort.

I debated between the giant snickerdoodle with vanilla ice cream and caramel (I love caramel!) and the brown butter banana cake with chantilly cream (I love bananas!). Z. wasn't as intrigued by the snickerdoodle, so we opted for the banana cake. It was moist, not too sweet, and helped along by the pool of chocolate sauce. I actually enjoyed the single sliced strawberry swirled around the sauce (pardon the alliteration) a bit more than the cake. Perhaps because I am now baking more extensively at home I have become more critical of restaurant desserts, so I wasn't really wowed by the banana cake. Next time, the snickerdoodle.

Service throughout was attentive and friendly. At the beginning, someone kept dancing over and refill our water glasses with just a "glug" of water, enough for a single swallow, when the levels on the glasses hadn't moved--totally unnecessary--but as the place got more crowded (and noisy), this kind of Ganymede-like attention dwindled. I didn't miss it.

I did like the experience overall, and plan on going back, perhaps to try more of the warm small plates. While the small plate fad is growing, I don't mind it so much, since I'd rather try smaller portions of more dishes then get saddled with a huge entree I will never finish. I don't think Amuse is the kind of place one should drive across town for, but as a Westside-dweller, it's pretty convenient, has a nice, young vibe, and an intriguing menu.

Dinner for two, including a bottle of sparkling water, beer, three small plates, one entree, and one dessert, plus tip: $74.

Amuse Cafe
796 Main Street, Venice, CA 90291


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