Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Years Dinner at Ama Restaurant is Love

With our Garden State country home renovations in full swing – so still no kitchen -- and a magnum of family and friends’ holiday parties under our belt, we were thinking New Years Eve needed to be dining out, outstanding/good food was to be paramount, of course, with an emphasis on locally-sourced food ingredients. 

Ama Ristorante, in our village by-the-shore-marina boasted a dining cache that could fulfill our culinary checklist for the evening’s celebration. 
Plus, the restaurant is within walking distance. Extra credit. So check, check and check!

It now seems incredulous that we had not yet dined at this three-year old restaurant.  Especially since we’d heard good things about the food and respected foodie advocates, including Bob Sickles ( had recommended the restaurant…

Truth be told, it is because more often than not we cook at home when at our country house whereas we dine out when in Gotham (all the great restaurants in town to take advantage of.)

The Brooklyn brownstone-sized dining room seats about 38-plus customers in the brick lined intimate embrace of the main dining room with its elegantly maintained tin ceiling.  In the warm weather the sliver of a garden terrace seats an overflow and alfresco dining enthusiast. 

A mid afternoon call to Ama on December 31st for reservations was delightful – like phoning an extended family member. No drama. No pretense of  “Let me check the reservations to see what I have” while the seconds and time pockets suck the air out of the exchange as is done at far too may Manhattan restaurants -- all the while we all know there are plenty of seats and no need to pull the velvet rope act.  To whit, Del Posto offered prime seating for dinner with a same-day phone call to reservations…And honestly, food nirvana doesn’t get all that much better there and what better place to so easily puddle up into foodie arrogance.

Chef Joe
Turns out, Laura Borawski is the hands-on partner and co-owner of Ama with Joe Trama, the chef.  
Laura Borawski

How cute are these foodie restaurant owners?!

Laura and I struck up a quick and easygoing chat about chef Joe’s work at TriBeCa Grill, Coco Pazzo, the iconic River Café and Della Femina in East Hampton – more six degrees of separation, as Della Femina, then a Drew Nieporent established restaurant – now East Hampton Grill, is featured restaurant in this reporter’s book, “Hamptons and Long Island Homegrown Cookbook,”  

It was delightful to exchange mutual food friends and Gotham neighborhood eateries and to discover the pedigree of both Laura and Joe. 
The conversation and exchange was a bit like a very good appetizer in anticipation of a good meal ahead -- a tickler or amuse bouche for what was to come.

Ama restaurant is a BYOB and cash only restaurant.  That just seems to add to the fierce charm and independence and keeps the focus on the food. 
An 8:30 pm seating allowed us to enjoy cocktails at home.
Later, Laura told us many customers go next door to the Wine Bar for cocktails, après Ama. 
We brought our champagne and wine for dinner, allowing for our choice and an affordable drink alternative. We enjoyed an aperitif of Prosecco with the appetizers and a choice of BV Chardonnay and Silverado 2004 with dinner entrees.

The room was calibrated buzz, with good-looking patrons enjoying the dining experience.  

Victoria, our waitress, described the evening’s offerings. 

While the restaurant’s reviews report its focus on locavore ingredients, the menu was decidedly more Italian mainstream with an emphasis on chef’s Tuscan roots.  Nightly Specials include the Misto di Terra, Pasta, and Pesce, along with Fromagi di Artisanal including Formaggio Capra, Piave, Robiola, Pecorino.  Entrees range from endive and arugula and radicchio salad with a vinegarette dressing to Cozze de Pappa al Pomodoro (hand cultivated mussels in tomato sauce) But there is Brooklyn bread!

Our evening’s emphasis was lots of appetizers. 

Miso di Terra
The Misto di Terra, seasonal products of the earth, was a very tasty composition of eggplant roasted in olive oil, asparagus, sweet braised endive, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes and cheese with just the right amount of sea salt.   

The Insalata di Carciofi Crudo con Limone e Parmesan – the shaved baby artichoke was a joyful treat.  The extra virgin olive oil, flirted with the Parmesan Reggiano and lemon juice to dance lightly on the flavorful chokes.

Shaved Baby Artichoke

Extraordinary Calamari
The Calamari alla Fritto was the hands-down best dish of the evening.  It was lightly battered and salted and the lemon was zesty and just the right balance. The fish was sweet and light too. Big chunky rings were topped with mint. All together the dish was downright addictive.  We’ll be back for plates of this with a good bottle of wine!  

Another winner was the shredded crab – it was a hillock of tender, sweet meat, with a bit of Parmesan and extra virgin olive oil, with just the right amount of red onions to give it a hint of spice without overwhelming or overpowering.
Crazy Crab treat 

The entrée favorite was the fish of the day: branzino. One of my all time favorites was kept simple with spinach and pine nuts, seasoned so that the natural flavor stood out in the thick, meaty fish. It was delicious. 

The baked scallops were a bit over seasoned, but good – especially the roasted fennel dressing. 

The battered veal was a bit thin, covered in radicchio and cheese but nevertheless, my husband ate the entire dish.  

Pistachio Gelato with Mint
Dessert was a bit of heaven. The Cia Bella pistachio gelato was so creamy and eye-rolling good.  

The pannacotta too, was a happy discovery with a raspberry sauce and mint.

Ama Ristorante Tuscana is located at 41 First Avenue, Atlantic Highlands, NJ 07716 732-872-4674 

Hosted by dedicated and experienced food lovers, Pat and Laura, Ama is a welcome addition to the local food scene and is a place where foodies can enjoy a dining cadence that is friendly, interesting and tasty. 

Ama Ristorante is readily accessible from Monmouth County, New Jersey and just like all the New York/Gotham financial services professionals that go back and forth every day as daily commuters and weekend enthusiasts, Food lovers can just hop on the Seastreak ferry to god’s country as easy and fast as a subway ride.  You can’t use your Metrocard but you will get to Ama Risorante fast and you can enjoy food and a walk on the water…

For easy access to ferry schedules:

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