I recently had the pleasure of celebrating a friend’s birthday with two of her girlfriends over dinner. It was especially nice to see her and catch up – it’d been months since our last adventure (which included heavy poutine consumption at London’s newly opened Smoke’s. I was instantly transported to Montreal during my first encounter (delicious fries with just the right amount of crisp, smothered with gravy and curds), only to face disappointment during a revisit. I certainly hope this chain’s inconsistency does not prevail.)
Food-wise, it’s interesting to be reminded of how far the boy and I have deviated from the norm. How far we’ve grown in the last few years with our ever rising culinary skills and penchant for interesting flavour combinations. Which leads us to almost never going out for dinner unless we’re going for the best, and make an event out of fine dining spearheaded by creative and innovative chefs. Some folks spend their entertainment budget on movie or video games; I splurge on food. And I have no qualms saving my pennies to savour fine dining, but am adverse to to spending on mediocrity. Case in point: we planned part of our last trip to NYC around dining at Wylie Dufresne‘s currently Michelin star rated wd-50, and even had a chance to meet the molecular gastronomist himself!
I’m sure Monday nights in London are quiet everywhere, and Amici was no exception. We were greeted by the chef himself, who was doubling on serving duties that evening; I wonder if the restaurant was short-staffed, or if the chef always chose to chat with his customers. Either way, Paul Krohn was a very amicable man with a good sense of humour and I thoroughly enjoyed his presence through the evening. Since we were chatting directly with the chef, it was the ideal opportunity for me to ask him to show me his best. This resulted in my dinner order of “please surprise me and keep in mind that there’s absolutely nothing I don’t like.” Pleasantly surprised by the unusual request, mentioned that he wished more patrons would order similarly.
I also decided on his soup of the day to start, thinking that the freshest ingredients would be showcased in the kitchen’s daily special. Paul called this his “3P soup” – potato, pancetta & provolone. I’d have called it a 4P soup – the generous parsley garnish exerted flavour dominance when it snuck onto my spoon. Not an entirely unpleasant flavour combination, just a lack of subtly. It was hearty and featured contrasting textures of oozy provolone and melt in your mouth chunks of potato. And yet, I was bored. I knew from the first bite that I needed to recalibrate the food to an average dining out experience, and proceeded to shift my evening’s focus more centrally on the company and conversation. Celebration was the most important part of the evening anyway.
The chef then surprised me with traditional osso buco, slightly surprising me as I thought I’d have been presented with one of the daily specials. Again, my thoughts were that these would be media for showcasing today’s freshest ingredients. I suspect the majority of of the folks who frequent Amici know what they want and choose plates they know they like, which may explain Paul’s safe choice for me. While this dining pattern may suit some, it certainly does not apply to me. True to the menu item and traditional to a tee, the braised veal shank was classically paired with risotto alla milanese and steamed mixed vegetables. Again, I struggled to find anything interesting that tickled my taste buds and was disappointed that American saffron was used in the risotto – a telltale sign when the lovely yellow was merely illusive, yielding no actual saffron taste. Also, I believe that steamed carrots/cauliflower/zucchini/broccoli (especially those of the bland variety without salt or pepper) are one of the reasons why some folks find vegetables unexciting, and perhaps even abhorrent.
Don’t be mistaken: nothing on my plate offended my taste buds (no clashing of odd flavours or culinary mistakes like over-salting), but I’m always disappointed when there’s nothing to write home about. Sometimes it’s not always about the food. But I have a difficult time accepting this completely since I struggle with paying for food that is at most comparable to my own cooking, and the boy and I certainly make a better braise and risotto.
Amici Italian Restaurant
350 Dundas Street