Last week, I attended a performance workshop given by Jeanne Ruddy Dance. The company is premiering a work next month at Wilma Theater. At the theater, I spotted neighbors Kathryn and Grant, who I have not seen since Halloween. We’ve discussed having dinner for a review and finally exchanged business cards. Grant called Amis, Marc Vetri’s new restaurant, and landed a reservation for 5:15.
Unless you’ve been living deep in the Australian outback, you know Vetri is probably the finest Italian-American chef in the city. He opened Amis several weeks ago and it is less costly than dining at Vetri.
Amis is a cross between an Italian farmhouse and a loft in Old City. Wood is the prominent décor with copper cooking utensils grace the walls. We ordered a carafe of house red, an Italian Merlot/Sangiovese blend and nibbled on homemade focaccia, which had the eggy texture of challah.
At Amis ($10), three boneless sardines were marinated in olive oil and lemon juice. Sicily is represented with arancini di riso with meat ragu ($6). This classic dish was made with arborio rice, coated with crumbs and fried to a golden brown. They were creamy inside and crisp outside.
I have not enjoyed fritto misto in more than three years when I gobbled up the fried fish at Le Virtu. Amis’ version ($10) consisted of three large shrimp with heads intact, several slices of zucchini and waffle chips nestled on brown paper to absorb any excess oil. The shrimp were luscious with sweetness. I did not mind the zucchini, and the fries were homemade.
From the pasta we selected gnocchi alla roman with oxtail ragu ($14) and veal cannelloni with porcini béchamel ($14). Vetri is celebrated for his light melt-in-your-mouth little pillows which he usually makes with fresh spinach. At Amis, they were prepared simply and topped with shreds of oxtail that were braised and tossed with fresh tomato sauce. The cannelloni were outrageous. Order these fresh pasta crepes filled with tender veal and sauced with a rich béchamel. The addition of porcini was an inspired choice. They imparted a heady flavor in this dish.
Next up, were the turkey cutlet alla Milanese ($16) and tagliata di tonno ($18). The inexpensive twist on veal alla Milanese fits in just right at Amis. A boneless turkey breast was pounded thin, dipped in beaten egg, coated with seasoned bread crumbs and quickly fried. A mound of fresh, spicy lightly dressed arugula sat on the side of the plate. It was topped with shards of parmigiano-reggiano.
The tuna was a little odd. It was way too rare for Kathryn. Grant took a bite and he found it too rare. I did not mind it because I eat raw tuna at sushi bars. The immaculately fresh fish was served with fennel tossed in a citrus vinaigrette. From the contorni, we chose escarole ($6) and grilled cauliflower ($6). The escarole lacked the bitter flavor I sometimes find it to have in restaurants. This version was done up gratinéed with a sprinkling of raisins (here is Sicily again) and Parmesan. It was baked in the oven and served in the gratiné dish. The grilled cauliflower was a triumph. We could not get enough of it. The dolci menu takes unusual twists and turns. Coppa di Saronno ($8) looked like a hot fudge sundae. It consisted of Amaretti semifreddo drizzled with rich hot fudge sauce and topped with toasted almonds. We were in dessert heaven. Olive oil torta ($8) was just that. A rich slice of cake prepared with olive oil was not overly sweet. It was enhanced by whipped cream and homemade apple butter.
Our server also brought us a plate of complimentary cookies. I reached for the pignoli biscuit and munched away. Grant sipped a cup of English breakfast tea ($2) which was served in a French-style café au lait cup. He turned the cup over and told us the colorful cup and saucer were made in Australia.
Service was excellent. By 6 p.m., the place was packed. People were dining at both bars as well.
The only flaw: Hot food served on cold plates. Kathryn, Grant and I always heat up the plates when cooking at home.
Three tips of the toque to Amis.
412 S. 13th St.
Reservations an absolute must