Monday, August 9, 2010

A Sampling Of The New AMP 150 Summer Menu

About two weeks ago, I received a Facebook message from one of Cleveland's more recent culinary acquisitions, Chef Ellis Cooley at AMP 150. In addition to pairing with many of Cleveland's local farmers, Chef Cooley had the forethought to plant the restaurant's own garden out on the unused land behind the Marriott Hotel on West 150th Street. With the garden now in full production mode, the chef decided it was time to switch up the menu a bit to take full advantage of all these local, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

His message was simple, "Come back in and check us out." The last time I formally ate at AMP 150 was at the Killbuck Valley Farm dinner back in March of this year. Realizing it had been quite some time since I had returned to the restaurant, I put out an open call on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to join me for dinner. Fortunately, fellow foodie and mayor of AMP 150 on Foursquare, Justin, was available to join me as we worked our way through the new menu.

While I have posted the menu before, that was the old (or original) menu. Here was the menu we worked off of tonight:

While Justin had actually sampled some of the new dishes off the menu, I was working with a clean slate. We both decided that the six course tasting menu would be a perfect way to let the kitchen send out the highlights of the new menu. Justin simply told our server what he hadn't tried yet and Chef Cooley tailored an individualized meal for each of us. What turned out to be a rather slow Monday evening morphed into a 30 minute wait to get a table by the end. While this didn't allow Chef Cooley to get out of the kitchen much to interact with us, it was great to see them so busy on what typically is a slow night.

First up was an amuse bouche of gazpacho:

While technically more of a taste than an amuse bouche (since it was more than one bite), this chilled tomato soup had come out with olive oil bread crumbs and shrimp escabeche. Essentially the shrimp had been poached slowly in the olive oil and then was presented in the oil itself. I drizzled the small shrimp and some of the oil on top of my soup, added some of the bread crumbs and took a bite. In a word? Delicious. The soup had a wonderful sharp acidity to it that was mollified by the smoothness of the olive oil. The shrimp was delicate and sweet. The toasted bread crumbs added a crunchy texture to the creamy smooth soup. There was just enough soup to whet the appetite for the next course.

The second taste for the evening was a permutation of a dish that was on Chef Cooley's original menu:

This was their luscious chicken liver pate spread on top of charred bread and served with elderberry jam and finished with some chives. There was one for both Justin and I. As I took my first bite, what popped into my head was "morning toast," but on a whole other sophisticated level. The chicken liver pate was buttery and not the least bit "liver-y." The jam was sweet, but not overly so. Both Justin and I agreed that we were glad we had been limited to one piece each because I would've gladly consumed a plateful of these.

Thinking we were now about to start our third course, Justin corrected me and said that these first two items were merely tastings and we still had six more courses to go. Apparently the extra tastings are common when you order the four or six course tastings. I had a feeling that I'd better pace myself lest I run out of stomach room too soon.

Common courses now done, individualized plates began appearing for Justin and I. My first course was off the appetizer menu:

These were black mussels with Chinese sausage, lemongrass, plum wine, coconut milk, ginger and cilantro. The Chinese sausage was actually made in house with pork, spices, and Mirin, a sweetened rice wine. I tasted the sausage by itself and it did have a very subtle sweetness. The mussels were tender and perfectly cooked and the only thing I wish I had available to me after finishing up the sausage and mussels was some nice fresh bread to soak up the glorious elixir that sat at the bottom of the bowl.

My second course was from the salad section of the menu:

This was the crispy calamari salad with frisee lettuce, speck, Piquillo peppers, and lemon juice. The calamari were nicely breaded and fried and I loved the contrast of the warm squid against the cool frisee salad underneath. The salad had definitely been dressed with lemon juice as the frisee by itself had almost too much of an acidic flavor. But when combined with some of the ham and the calamari, the extra fat helped to cut through some of the lemon juice flavor. That being said, if you don't like sour tastes, this might not be the right salad for you.

While I didn't taste Justin's second course tonight, I figured I would include it anyway because I have had the opportunity to taste it before:

This was the wonderful beet terrine that debuted at the Top Chef charity event I attended just a few short weeks ago. It consisted of many layers of roasted beets and Lake Erie Creamery goat cheese with various citrus flavors thrown in for effect. It has a dried beet paper inserted into the top and the greens was dressed with a simple beet vinaigrette. As already mentioned, I didn't try this tonight, but if the look on Justin's face meant anything, I knew that this was as good as the version I had tried at the charity event. I highly recommend you try this salad.

My third course was the playful Franks and Beans:

A play on hot dogs and baked beans, AMP 150's version consisted of house made smoked Kielbasa, Sea Island red peas, vine ripe tomatoes, and topped with some freshly fried thinly cut onions. The Kielbasa had a slight fennel undercurrent on my palate and as I ate it, I noticed an occasional fennel seed or two. The beans were lovely and soft and had the same kind of molasses / tomato / mustard base that you would expect in a more traditional preparation of this dish. The fried onions added a nice bit of textural contrast and just a bit of sweetness as well.

Justin's third course was the goat cheese stuffed zucchini and squash blossoms that were batter coated and then deep fried:

These were served with a green tomato jam that was made simply from green tomatoes, simple syrup, lemon and mint and boiled down until it got to the right consistency. In exchange for some of my Franks and Beans, Justin graciously let me have one of his blossoms and some of the green tomato jam. I have a hard time describing this dish other than to say, heavenly. The coating on the blossom was crispy and not greasy. The goat cheese filling, while rich, was cut beautifully with the slightly sweet jam. This simple dish truly showed the mastery that Chef Cooley has in his flavors and their execution. Crispy, creamy, rich, sweet ... just amazingly good. While this dish wasn't listed on the menu, when you go, ask to see if they have it on the menu. It's worth it.

Our fourth courses consisted of a pasta dish and a dish with some pasta in it. First was the Rigatoncini:

And second was the rabbit cacciatore:

Justin and I decided to just split these 50/50. The Rigatoncini consisted of rigatoni pasta that had been paired with eggplant confit, roasted peppers, toasted pine nuts and fresh arugula. The rabbit cacciatore contained peppers and zucchini from AMP 150's garden and fresh made pasta squares. The Rigatoncini has a wonderfully sweet flavor and the toasted pine nuts added some fat as well as crunch to the dish. The rigatoni pasta was cooked nicely, too, having just a bit of resistance when I chewed it without it being undercooked. The rabbit cacciatore was another tasty dish where the rabbit had been clearly braised low and slow. The meat was tender and at the same time hadn't turned mushy. The pasta squares were a excellent compliment to the rest of the dish. Already complex enough, had these been ravioli, I think it would've interfered with the cacciatore.

At this point, I was beginning to hit my first wall of the evening. Having just eaten two tastes and four courses, I was pretty darn full. It was fortunate that a little bit of time passed before the next course came out of the kitchen. I don't know if Chef Cooley planned that or it was just serendipitous, but it was much appreciated.

My fifth course was the marinated flank steak:

It was cooked a perfectly medium rare and served with an heirloom tomato salad and a drizzle of Saba. Clearly I must've made room in my stomach or an extra compartment opened up someplace, because I was able to finish the entire plate of food. The heirloom salad was dressed simply and I loved how the acidity from the tomatoes help to cut the fattiness from the meat. The Saba added a delicate sweetness to the dish that was unusual but tasty. Known in the Italian world primarily as a sweetener, the Saba added a bit of sweet to pair with the savory and salted meat.

Having reached our sixth and final course, I looked at my cellphone to discover that our culinary odyssey tonight had so far taken nearly three hours! Then again, with two tastes and five courses under our belts, I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised. For our final course, Chef Cooley decided to leave us with a sweet taste in our mouths. Here was what I was offered:

This was a layered dessert consisting of milk chocolate panna cotta, salted caramel and was topped with a malted milk ice cream and crushed hazelnuts. The trick to eating this dish was to insert your spoon vertically all the way to the bottom of the dish so that you could get just a little bite of each layer. While I am not a huge dessert person (though I like them from time to time), I have to say that this was both rich and refreshing all at the same time. I kept telling myself that I should stop eating, but in some weird way, I felt compelled to keep eating bite after luscious bite. I did eventually manage to convince myself to finally put down my spoon, but it wasn't before I had eaten nearly 2/3 of the dessert.

While I didn't get to pick my specific dessert tonight, I thought I would include a photograph of the new dessert menu as well (just for completeness):

My server informed me that the restaurant hadn't had time to reprint the menus yet and that the macadamia nut cake was no longer available. Had I been able to pick my dessert, I might have still gone with the milk chocolate panna cotta, but The Elvis and Milky ... Cereal ... Baby both sounded pretty darn good, too.

Our meal finally completed, Justin and I each received our checks (he had iced tea with his meal, I simply had water). Our multi-course extravaganza had come to $45 each. With tip and tax, my bill came to $60. While that might be a bit on the expensive side for some, a four course tasting menu is also available for $30. And with the addition of the extra "tastes" that the kitchen seems to like throwing into your experience, the smaller tasting menu might be up your alley in more ways than just financial.

If you have yet to try out AMP 150, I am here to encourage you to give them a try as soon as you can. Chef Cooley and his kitchen brigade are doing some marvelously tasty and creative cuisine while at the same time using local, sustainable farms and farming practices. This is exactly the kind of restaurant I want to spend my dining dollars and I encourage you to do the same.

1 comment:

bonnjill said...

Mmmm, the squash blossom... I just realized that I have eaten (and adored) everything you tried except the soup and the calamari salad. Yes, I am an Amp 150 addict too. Ellis is a truly wonderful and imaginative chef.

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