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I was introduced to Sigmund Freud, or at least his Upper West Side disciples, at an early age. My parents divorced when I was six. The years that preceded their final separation were, well, not so pleasant. You do the math. They had me on a shrink’s couch by the time I was six and a half. I had no idea what I was doing talking to an old lady (someone who I now realize was probably in her 40s) for an hour each week, but I knew that I got to go to the Well Bread Loaf for brownies afterwards so I really didn’t care that much. My most vivid memory of therapy as a child was listening to my therapist snore during our session. I guess I wasn’t that interesting. I mean, at that point I was like a deer caught in the headlights. I really didn’t have that much to say and she wasn’t very interested in asking questions. Let’s just say it wasn’t particularly helpful. Since those days as a kid, I have come to work with therapists who do not fall asleep. This seems to allow for better results. One of these days, I actually might be well-adjusted!Review By: Andrea Strong
Which brings us (in a very roundabout way) to Amalia, a striking new Mediterranean restaurant in Vikram Chatwal’s Dream Hotel, named for Freud’s mother. Get it, dream? Freud? Wink, Wink. It’s clever, I suppose, and with the number of New Yorkers who visit with Freud’s people every week for their 45-minute hours, it certainly resonates with the masses.
Amalia, which is owned by Greg Brier (Aspen), was designed by Chris Sheffield and Steve Lewis of SLD Design (Marquee, Butter, Aspen). It’s an eclectic space that stretches away from the street in a series of ascending dining rooms interconnected through arched doorways. Up front you’ll find a modern bar area that’s cool and crisp, with white leather swivel stools and a back-lit bar constructed of Lucite and white lace. Homemade caramel popcorn served in the bar fills the air with the sweet smell of warm toffee. The front and rear dining rooms also toe the modern line, with chocolate brown banquettes, and walls covered in smooth lacquered butter-colored wood. But the middle room is quite ornate, with raw brick walls, ceilings covered in framed paintings, pillars of carved wood, marble fireplaces and French blue Chinoiserie panels. Overall, it’s a space that may sound a bit disjointed but actually it flows together quite seamlessly. It just allows for different moods, and diverse design personalities. Freud would be pleased.
The food is also a sort of hodge-podge—but a smart, wonderful one at that. Chef Ivy Stark, who most recently ran the kitchens of Dos Caminos and Rosa Mexicano, also did time as sous chef at a couple of three-star restaurants—Sign of the Dove and Cena—and her menu draws inspiration from all of her training (classical and modern) and from a variety of culinary cultures. In this way, perhaps Amalia represents Freud with more than just the name. It gathers up Stark’s past, and allows her to express who she has become as a chef. What she has become is someone with a very good palate, with an adventurous soul, who cooks food that is invigorating, exciting, well thought out, and quite frankly, just fun to eat.
One of my favorite dishes was the chorizo stuffed crispy chicken ($26), a dish that marries Spain, Mexico, and the South. What a beautiful relationship. Ivy fills a juicy boned-out chicken breast with smoky Spanish chorizo and fries the bird so its skin is crunchy and golden. It’s served with a brilliant sauce that’s sort of a cross between Romesco and mole; there’s Ancho chile in there, you can taste the cinnamon, the chocolate, the almonds. The pickled golden raisins she tosses over the top add just the right pop so the sauce is sweet, hot, and bright. (Like the perfect man.) On the side, she serves spicy braised escarole tossed with toasted Marcona almonds.
Another star on the menu is her fideau ($26)—a hot creamy paella-like casserole made of fideos (thin short pasta) brimming with tomatoes, mussels, clams, peas, and romanesco broccoli. It’s pure comfort food. Kiri and I put the cast iron pan between us and ate out of it like it was a pint of ice cream.
If comfort food is your thing, you’ll want to get some of the eggplant and goat cheese lasagnette ($12), an appetizer served in a little cast iron pot layered with eggplant, goat cheese and slow-roasted tomatoes. The only issue I had with this dish was its top layer. It’s hard to believe that I am going to write the words “too much” and “cheese” in the same sentence, but I am. There was way too much cheese on top, which made it hard to cut through to the wonderful layers of eggplant and sweet tomatoes underneath.
While the lasagnette has some small issues, the sautéed and crispy calamari ($14) is in need of no therapy. This dish is genius. She sautées pearly rings of calamari with smoky hunks of chorizo, piquillo peppers and lots of creamy white beans. Then she tops it off with a few crunchy spindly squid and a thick cut slice of grilled garlic toast. It reminded me of cassoulet crossed with a bouillabaisse; it’s spectacular. Not that anyone’s asking me, but I think she should make it slightly larger, add some shrimp and mussels and serve it as a main course. It’s worthy.
Speaking of portions, they are quite generous, but the grilled ribeye ($38) moved into Fred Flintstone territory. For its size it should pack a bit more flavor and come with a bit of a char, but it’s a nice piece of meat, crowned with a giant pad of Cabrales butter and a mountain of fresh garlicky spinach. Roasted Mediterranean sea bass ($28) is simply done, served whole but filleted, with a crowning bouquet of fresh herbs. Its flesh is dense and sweet and it’s served with a great fork-crushed potato hash fleshed out with plump rock shrimp seasoned with saffron and roasted garlic.
The misses on the menu are quite slight. A salad of golden beets and blood oranges ($13) is very pretty, and offers an exploration in texture as the beets and the oranges alternate with slivers of creamy avocado and crunchy fried chickpeas, but it’s dressed in a syrupy pomegranate vinaigrette. Beautiful slices of white tuna sashimi ($18) are served with vanilla pickled red onions and segments of pulpy juicy tangerine. The dish is beautiful, but the vanilla is a note that just doesn’t work. It perfumes the fish in a way that makes it taste like one of those aromatic candles. I don’t like my food to taste like aromatic candles. Warm duck confit-stuffed dates wrapped in Serrano ham with fig mostarda ($13) sounded great, and they are, but they were cooked a bit too long and got dried out in the oven. A few minutes less, or a slightly larger, meatier date, and they’d be perfect.
I had no problems with dessert. In fact, I developed very strong feelings for the warm banana wrapped in a tight robe of shredded phylo—a sort of dessert egg roll—served with frozen lemon yogurt and sesame caramel ($9). Yum.
I left Amalia feeling well-fed, very taken care of, and excited to return. I feel like Amalia is a restaurant that’s like many of us. It has some issues, but they are smudges, things you work on, not big gaping craters (like mine feel like some days). The food, by and large, is wonderful, the room is inviting and has decent acoustics so you can have a conversation with out screaming. The service is smart, warm and efficient. The bar makes a nice drink—try the Demeter from Miller’s Gin with brandied cherries and elderflower—and the wine list is extensive and eclectic, like the menu. It is grouped by Red and White and then divided into categories like Agile, Attractive, and Tantalizing. The only one missing is dysfunctional.
Neighborhood: West 50s
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